The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 335: Dig We Must

Clarice and Emily in the cave

Clarice and Emily were growing bored. The apartment in which they were imprisoned offered little scope for entertainment. There was nothing to read, no cards or games with which to while away the time, and its single window faced away from the base toward a particularly monotonous stretch of outback. The only thing to relive the tedium was the attention Oskari was paying to Miss Perkins. The Finnish leader was obviously attracted to the secretary, and seemed to be going out his way to impress her. The three women, playing their roles of empty-headed tourists, were pretending not to notice.

They were sitting around the table, trying to improvise a checkers board from scraps of lint, when a guard knocked on the door. "Excuse me," he said politely. "If you're presentable, the Leader has invited you to see the Dig."

"Why ever would we want to do that?" asked Emily. "It sounds so... subterranean."

This observation was greeted with a pause. "Perhaps it is," the guard admitted, "but he thinks you'll enjoy it."

"Oh," said the brunette, "that's all right then."

The base had undergone several changes since the last time they'd stepped outside. The mysterious cruiser was gone, departed on some errand, and Lady Warfield's airship rode from the mooring mast in its place. Clarice noted that the crew were painting over the vessel's old name. What new name would the baroness choose, she wondered? She imagined it would involve edged weapons.

They found Oskari waiting next to a building they hadn't seen before -- a sprawling block of corrugated iron that looked like a cross between a warehouse and a mine head. A pair of his countrymen guarded the door. Judging from their peeling skin, they'd received more sunlight than was good for them.

"Tervehdys naiset," said the Finn. "I thought you might wish to see the reason for all our secrecy. Consider this an apology for the inconvenience you've had to endure."

Miss Perkins gazed up at him with what someone who didn't know her well might have taken to be unfeigned delight. "Is this a real archaeological site?" she asked breathlessly.

Oskari was not immune to her wiles. "So it is," he boasted. "And we've made some important discoveries."

"Oh, do show us what you've found!" said Miss Perkins. "I'd love to see!"

The Finn gestured for them to enter, taking this opportunity to assist Miss Perkins across the threshold. Clarice paused to marvel at the secretary's acting abilities, then followed the others inside. The interior of the building bore little resemblance to any archaeological dig she'd ever read about. Instead of the usual array of trenches, gridded with cords to record the position of any artifacts the investigators might uncover, the floor was cluttered with tunneling equipment and tailings from what appeared to be a substantial excavation. To their left, several men with Asian features were laboring over a row of unfamiliar machines.

Miss Perkins tugged Oskari's arm and pointed at the workers. "What are those men doing?" she asked.

Oskari beamed down at her. "They're extracting minerals from the rock and passing these through a centrifuge to separate the heavier components. From this, they can determine what the climate was like when these tunnels were created."

"How can they do that?" asked Emily, getting into the spirit.

"I'm not entirely certain," Oskari admitted, "but they've assured me that's the case."

On the far side of the room, a narrow metal staircase led down into the depths -- a setting that might have been taken straight from some radio drama. Oskari gestured for them to follow. A short descent brought them what appeared to be a system of caverns the Finns must have excavated. For the most part, these looked natural, but here and there, Clarice spotted what might have been painted figures and traces of worked stone.

"What is this place?" she asked.

"The natives call it the Cave of the Wind," said Oskari. "They believe it's a passage to some underworld where evil spirits wait sleeping until the stars are right and the time comes for them to sweep the Earth clean of humanity -- much like the original Finnish version of the Tale of Little Red Riding Hood. I believe it's an ancient city that was buried beneath these sands thousands of years ago."

"A buried city?" marveled Miss Perkins. "That's wonderful! Who could have built it?"

Oskari preened himself and tried to look modest. "The same people who were responsible for the other stonework one finds throughout the South Seas -- things such as the sunken city of Nan Madol, the marae of Tahiti, and the statues on Easter Island. Those can't have been been built by the current inhabitants of the islands, because none of them understands the art of masonry. They must have been left by some prior civilization that once spread across the Pacific."

Clarice held her tongue. It seemed to her that their host was making any number of entirely unwarranted assumptions.

"What were these people like?" asked Emily.

"Native legends may offer some clues," said Oskari. "The inhabitants of Pohnpei believe Na Madol was built by two sorcerers who came from the West aboard a magical canoe. Some claim this canoe could fly, which suggests it might have been an early form of airship. The inhabitants of Easter Island believe the statues were created by powerful ancestors who arrived from the West. And here in Australia, which lies west of the Pacific, the aborigines have legends of something they call the Dreamtime that involves powerful beings who lived in the past."

"Did these people leave any records?" asked Clarice, doing her best not to sound skeptical.

"Not that we can decipher," said Oskari. "We have found a few cave paintings, such as this figure of a musician playing what appears to be a pair of cymbals next to this giant tree. We've also found this."

The Finn paused before a rectangular indentation in the wall of the cave. This might have been a natural feature, wrought by erosion and the passage of time, but it looked for all the world like a door. This resemblance was heightened by a small break in the rock that looked much like a keyhole.

Miss Perkins crouched to examine the opening. Clarice admired the skill with which the secretary allowed a trace of her slip to show. "That looks almost like a lock," she observed.

"I suppose it does," said the Finn. His attempt to appear nonchalant was not entirely convincing. What is that all about? wondered Clarice.

Miss Perkins stood and smoothed down her skirt. "I recall that Captain Michaelson mentioned something about a key," she remarked artlessly. "Wouldn't it be funny if this really was a door, and that was the key to open it?"

Oskari seemed relieved, as if the secretary had passed some test. "Yes," he said, "I suppose it would."

Next week: It'll Be A Gold Mine...

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