The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 426: It Was Chemistry

Moxie bottles

Scott had demanded be taken to Bhamo, ostensibly to search for the American archaeologists. This had meant a night flight north along the Irrawaddy River to arrive before the morning wind could build, followed by some moments of frustration as the outpost's inexperienced handling parties struggled to walk the ship to the mast. Now they'd visited Bhamo's police station to meet with the Assistant Superintendent. This was a young man with curly brown hair and a regimental mustache, wearing the uniform of the Indian Imperial Police.

"My name is Eric Blair," he informed them. "How may I help you?"

"I am Inspector Scott... Scott of the Yard!" Scott announced. "I'm searching for a team of American archaeologists that I know to be in the area."

"That would be those fellows from Illinois," said Blair. "They hired a local geologist to guide them to some sites in Kachin Hills."

For some reason, the inspector seemed to find this revelation significant. "A geologist?" he said. "Interesting. Where is their encampment?"

"I'll detail one of my men to take you there," said Blair. "I'll also provide you with an escort. We've been having some trouble with the dacoits recently."

"We will not need an escort," Scott said haughtily. "No adversary could possibly know we are here. Their ignorance is our strength."

"Ignorance is strength," mused Blair. "I'll have to remember that phrase."

In addition to Scott, Jenkins, and the guide, Everett brought along Pierre and Lieutenant Murdock -- the one for his knowledge of antiquities, and the other because he felt an outing would be good for the lad. A stiff climb in the hills north of town brought them to the Americans' camp. This had been fortified with a circle of thorn bushes, either as protection against wild animals or because its owners had been brought up on a diet of `cowboy' movies. The archaeologists seemed to be away, but they'd left their servants behind, along with a secretary.

The woman brightened when she saw Murdock. "Welcome to the field camp of the University of Chicago South Asian Archaeological Expedition," she said. "My name is Lorinda. How can I help you."

Scott frowned at her grammar. "I am Scott... Scott of the Yard!" he announced. "I wish to examine your records."

The secretary tore her attention from the lieutenant long enough to gesture toward a tent. "They're in there somewhere," she said vaguely.

Scott glared at her, then stormed off in the direction she'd indicated. Everett intervened before she could take offense.

"Thank you," he said politely. "Could you tell us where we might find the archaeologists?"

"They're all at the dig," she replied. "Should I find someone to take you there?"

"If you'd be so kind," said Everett. "Mister Murdock, I'd like you to remain here in case we miss them."

A short time later, Everett, Jenkins, and Pierre were heading up a trail, following an old Burmese hillman. Pierre glanced back at the camp and shook his head.

"I wonder if it was wise to leave Monsieur Murdock with the mademoiselle," he remarked.

Everett raised an eyebrow. "Why should there be a problem? It's difficult to imagine what trouble he could possibly get into."

"Peut être," said Pierre, "but your lieutenant seems to have a certain gift, of which he is entirely unaware."

"A gift?' said Everett. "I'm not sure I understand your meaning."

Murdock watched party go, then turned to see the secretary gazing at him. Her smile was remarkable. So was her clothing -- a dress that might have come straight from some dance floor in America, a gauzy scarf that threatened to take wing in the slightest breeze, and a necklace long enough to anchor a small dinghy. He wondered if this was some form of secretarial uniform.

"Would you like something to drink while we wait?" she asked.

"Why, thank you," he replied gratefully. For some reason, her gaze had left him feeling uncomfortably hot.

The woman took him by the hand and led him to what he assumed was the dining tent. Once they were inside, she drew the flap closed. "There!" she announced. "Now we'll have some privacy!"

Why do we need privacy to drink? Murdock wondered, but before he could ask, she'd crouched to open an icebox. He glanced away in embarrassment, for her dress hadn't been designed to accommodate such a maneuver.

"I'm afraid we don't have any tea," she told him, "but we do have cold soda. Have some Moxie!" She plunked two bottles down on the table and slid into the seat next to him. He noticed that she seemed rather breathless -- something to do with altitude, perhaps. He also noticed that one of her shoulder straps seemed to have slid down her arm. The other seemed inadequate for the task it was called upon to perform.

Why is she looking at me like that? he wondered. Did I say something wrong?

She leaned closer and rested a hand on his jacket. "Here," she murmured. "Let me open that for you."

As the lieutenant was struggling to find a reply, shouts sounded from outside, followed by the sound of blows.

"I say?" he cried in relief. "What's that all about?"

The dig was like archaeological sites anywhere -- an anonymous row of trenches worked by serious-looking gentlemen in dusty suits. These particular archaeologists might have been dressed more flamboyantly than Calvert or Schleimann -- the holstered revolvers were a particular novelty -- but otherwise they seemed unremarkable.

"I am Professor Hiram Jones, of the University of Chicago Archeology Department," said their leader. "How can I help you?"

Everett was too polite to take notice of the innovative Colonial verb usage. "I am Captain Roland P. Everett, Royal Navy Airship Service, and these are my companions Jenkins and Pierre. We've been investigating the kidnapping of one of your associates."

Jones nodded. "That would be Professor Kishino from the Chemistry Department. Have you learned anything about his whereabouts?"

"I'm afraid we're still gathering clues," said Everett. "If you don't mind my asking, why did you need a chemist on an archaeological expedition?"

"It's a new idea," said Jones. "We were hoping to trace the origin of artifacts we found by measuring their isotope ratios."

"Isotope ratios?" said Everett. "I am unfamiliar with the term."

"It derives from the work of Soddy and Thomson before the War," said the professor. "They discovered that elements come in different forms, with slightly different weights."

"How is this possible?" asked Everett. "Surely the atoms must all be the same."

"I'm not entirely clear on the mechanism," Jones admitted, "but it has something to do with things called `neutrons'. These affect the properties of an element, and it seems that their number varies in samples taken from different locations. Koshino has devised a scheme to separate these different isotopes for analysis."

Jenkins caught captain's eye. "Sir," he said. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Everett nodded, but before he could reply, they were interrupted by the arrival of a runner.

"Sahibs," the man said urgently, "there has been trouble at the camp."

Next week: An Iconic Island...

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