Episode 440: The Bridge Over The River N'Mai, Part I
MacKiernan swept his binoculars across the landscape to evaluate their
position -- he wasn't a navigation officer for nothing. The countryside
around them seemed abandoned. Apparently Burmah Petroleum had seen fit to
deport the local inhabitants when they established their presence here.
Immediately to the west, the N'Mai river foamed over a succession of
rapids on the way towards its junction with the Irawaddy. In the hills
beyond it, he could make out what might have been a party of horsemen --
hunters, perhaps, or smugglers heading toward the Chinese border. Far to
the south, a pair of lorries had stopped by the side of the road. He
dismissed these as irrelevant. These seemed unlikely to have anything to
do with Burmah Petroleum's mysterious air station, for this had its own
private rail line.
Satisfied that his party was unobserved, he turned his attention back to
their destination. This may have begun life as a Burmese hill village, but
it had undergone a substantial transformation, and now sported a mooring
mast, hydrogen plant, and fueling facilities. The barbed wire perimeter
fence and guard towers were also a non-traditional touch. The original
dwellings had been razed and replaced by modern barracks, storehouses, and
an administration building. Across from the entrance, workmen were
wheeling crates into a windowless structure that might have been a
"It looks like someone's been busy here," Professor Jones remarked. "Who
runs this place?"
"English and Japanese," said Miss Kim. "English for village, Japanese for
air station and guards."
"It would seem they have unwilling guests," said MacKiernan. He indicated
an inner compound guarded by another barbed wire fence and watchtower.
From their arrangement, it was clear this was a prison. "Is that where our
people were being held?"
"Yes," she replied. "It look same as when I leaving."
"How did they arrive, and how you happen to meet Lieutenant-Commander
"Japanese cruiser bringed them last June. Japanese make them to work on
air station. They make me translating."
MacKiernan shook his head. "This situation cannot be allowed to continue.
We shall have to rescue them."
Professor Jones studied the defenses. They didn't seem strongly manned.
A row of emplacements that might once have held machine guns suggested it
had once held a larger force that had since been withdrawn. Even so, their
party seemed entirely inadequate for a direct assault. He drew his
revolver, shook his head, and replaced the weapon in its holster.
"How are we gonna pull this off?" he asked MacKiernan.
"A preliminary reconnaissance would seem indicated," the Irishman observed.
"You, Miss Perkins, and I will visit the place, continuing our pose as
sportsmen, and see if what we can learn. Meanwhile, Abercrombie and Miss
Kim will examine the perimeter to look for a way into the prison compound.
These people have no reason to suspect us, so I don't expect any
Bludge opened the door and stepped to the ground. The lorry rocked on its
springs as it was relieved of his weight. To the north, the road wound
along the right side of the river on its way toward their destination. In
the distance ahead, he could make out a party of motorcyclists -- couriers,
perhaps -- on their way to the station.
Gilman got out to stand next to him. "That's the place," he said cautiously.
People tended to be cautious around someone as massive as Bludge.
The butler nodded thoughtfully. "We're quite certain this is Burmah
Petroleum's mysterious new facility?"
"Aye," said Gilman. "I've never been here myself, but I've been handling
their cargoes, and as you can see, that's where their rail line goes."
Bludge studied the fortifications. They didn't seem strongly manned, but
they were still substantial, and like everyone who'd lived in the shadow
of the War, he had a keen appreciation of the advantages modern firearms
offered to the defense. After a moment, he indicated a slope to the right.
"We will make our way up the hillside along that ravine to infiltrate the
place from the southeast. "That should provide us with adequate cover.
Are your men are up to the task?"
Gilman glanced back at the lorries, where two dozen dacoits waited holding
the Martini-Henry rifles they'd been issued as partial payment for their
"I know these people," he replied confidently. "They have a longstanding
grudge against the plantation owners and companies that are taking their
land, and this is their chance to retaliate. What is our objective? That
Bludge shook his head. "No, that looks like the stockade. The man we
want will be in that building that looks like a laboratory. We'll attack
at dusk and trust there will be no surprises."
The guide -- a swarthy mountaineer clad in furs almost as shaggy as his
pony -- reined in his mount and pointed across valley.
"Ta zai nali, Dzo Sigmund," he announced, in what seemed to be a
combination of several languages.
The Fat Man's lieutenant reined in beside him and studied their destination.
It was a Burmese hill village that had been converted to an air station,
provided with barracks, and surrounded by modern fortifications. The latter
looked fairly substantial, but didn't appear to be strongly-manned. Instead,
the occupants had chosen to evacuate the surrounding countryside to remove
any potential attackers. The only signs of life they'd seen during their
approach was a party of motorcycle couriers on their way to the station and
a pair of lorries that seemed to have broken down by the side of the road
some distance to the south.
He glanced at their troop -- two dozen tribesmen every bit as wild-looking
as their guide -- and turned to his second in command. "Kurt, do you trust
these herren to carry off an assault?"
The other German nodded. "Ja. We've been cultivating them since
the last War in anticipation of he next one. They are reliable. And
they've learned combat against the Mi Go."
"Good," said Sigmund. "We will raft across the river at dusk and infiltrate
the station from the northwest. The Japanese will not be prepared for an
attack from that direction. We should not expect any surprises."
Michaelson studied the message and frowned. It seemed matters had been
taken out his hands, assuming they'd ever been in his hands to begin with.
This development did not come as a surprise -- he'd anticipated it ever
since the inspector had appeared -- but he still didn't enjoy becoming part
of someone else's game. He considered making a move of his own, then shook
his head. If there was ever a time to pretend that he wasn't a player, it
He sighed, reached for the codebook, and composed an order. When it was
finished, he checked his work and picked up his phone to call the radio
"Duty officer, send a courier to my office. We have a message for the
Next week: The Bridge Over The River N'Mai, Part II...
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