The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 447: A Day In The Life Of The Imperial Police

Another Secret Laboratory

Blair and the administrator studied the wreckage of the R-47. Once this had been one of His Majesty's airships -- a proud example of Imperial technology -- but the years and miles had taken their toll, relegating the vessel to secondary uses, training roles, and finally assignment to the Australian station. There she might have languished in obscurity had someone not seen fit to glide her into this field during a pre-dawn assault. Now, workers swarmed over the site, cutting away sections of girders and cable for salvage.

"This looks to have been quite the adventure," the administrator remarked. "You mentioned that the crash was deliberate?"

"So I was informed," said Blair.

The administrator nodded. "I hope the Royal Navy Airship Service is not in the practice of flying their vessels into the ground."

"Not on a regular basis," said Blair. "I understand the vessel was under the command of an official with some connection to the Admiralty who ordered this to facilitate his attack."

The administrator seemed unimpressed by this information. He gazed at the distant hills, then glanced at the ship on which he'd arrived -- a neat Wolesley class with Colonial Office markings -- as if he wished he were on his way back to civilization. Blair was familiar with his type: anonymous drones, sent to perform meaningless tasks for reasons known only to the bureaucracy. What was his name? Fulton? Miller? Fuller, that was it. Something-or-other Fuller.

"Why did this inspector feel it important to attack this place?" the man asked idly.

"He'd gotten word of some skullduggery here involving renegade employees of the Burmah Oil Corporation and a group of Japanese mercenaries," said Blair. "He recruited a party of... uh... marines and came to put a stop to the matter."

Fuller nodded. "I suppose I'd better be about my business. Where's this building mentioned in your report?"

Blair gestured toward the south. "If you'd follow me."

The two men made their way past the workshops that lined the southern perimeter of the mooring circle and a row of warehouses. These had obviously been the scene of a struggle. The ground was littered with cartridge cases, fragments of building material, and steel fenceposts that had evidently been torn free of the ground, complete with their concrete anchors, for use as clubs. Fuller nudged one with his foot and raised an eyebrow.

"This would be the work of your inspector's `marines'?" he asked.

Blair nodded. "They were a party of Scandinavians in remarkably good physical condition. They have some reputation in this part of the world."

"I can understand why," Fuller said wryly. "Do you encounter this sort of thing often in the Indian Imperial Police?"

"Not in the cities," said Blair, "but you never know what you might run into up in the hills. There's a tribe called the Mi Go that... well... one mustn't give credit to unsubstantiated rumors."

"Quite," said Fuller. "Have you served in Burmah long?"

"I came here from England in '22 to attend the training school on Mandalay," said Blair. "After that I was posted to the hill station at Maymyo, followed by a posting in the Delta. There was some talk of an assignment to Insein, but this position was taken by some veteran from the War, so I was transferred to Bhamo as Assistant District Superintendent."

"Such is the burden of Empire," Fuller remarked. "Your men must think of you as a big brother who watches over them."

"One does what one we can," Blair said modestly, uncomfortable with what he felt was unearned praise. He was saved further embarrassment when they arrived at their destination. This was a low windowless building with a heavy steel door guarded by a new padlock. The mechanism was stiff -- this tropical climate was not kind to delicate machinery -- and it took him two tries to work the combination. He made a mental note to speak to the locksmith about the matter.

"Do we have any idea what this building was used for?" asked Fuller.

"We questioned our prisoners, but they claim ignorance of the matter," said Blair. "The station manager says it was the work of his Japanese associate, who escaped during the confusion of the attack, his underlings seem to know nothing, and this is one of these annoying situations where ignorance is strength."

Fuller sighed. "I suppose I'd better have a look at the premises."

The premises proved to be a single large room furnished with several benches -- some bearing cryptic pieces of chemical and electrical apparatus -- a suggestive row of empty shelves, and a large machine that resembled a generator stood on end. The top was open to expose what looked like a flywheel. This had clearly seen better days. Fuller tapped a place where the rim had shattered.

"This is the so-called `centrifuge'?" he asked.

"I believe that's the correct pronunciation," said Blair. "It's an engine for spinning things at very high speed."

"Why ever would anyone want to do such a thing?" wondered Fuller.

"I had chance to look the matter up," said Blair. "It's a way to separate chemicals of different densities. These people might have been using the engine to refine some illicit substance -- possibly opium or some related narcotic."

"That seems like a lot of trouble," observed Fuller. "Surely there must be easier ways to accomlish this. It appears something was bolted to the apparatus here, where it threw things off balance until the mechanism shattered. Do you have any idea what it might have been?"

Blair leaned forward to examine the spot his guest had indicated and made out several small machine screws broken flush with the rim of the flywheel. He marveled at the other man's vision. He wouldn't have spotted them himself unless he'd known where to look.

"No," he admitted. "We didn't find anything of the sort when we searched the building."

Fuller shrugged. For a moment, Blair felt the gesture seemed overly theatrical, but he dismissed this as some effect of the lighting. "It seems my superiors sent me here for nothing, though I can't imagine what they expected me to find," sighed the administrator. "I'd better return to make my report."

Blair escorted his guest back to his vessel, then watched while the crew lifted ship. The evolution went smoothly -- the Woleselys' small size made them easy to handle -- and soon the airship was vanishing down the valley. As it rounded the hills to the west, one of his clerks came hurrying up the path from the administration building.

"Sir!" said the man. "We've received an urgent message from Cairns."

Blair unfolded the flimsy, read its contents, and frowned.

WATCH FOR MAN NAMED FULLER ON WOLESLEY CLASS SHIP REPRESENTING SELF AS COLONIAL ADMINISTRATOR AND APPREHEND HIM FOR QUESTIONING

"Right," he muttered. "Why can't they warn us about these things ahead of time?"

Next week: So, Where Were We?...

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