The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 430: Dacoits and Dirigibles

Kris dagger and Coastal Class blimp

The runner halted in front of them, gasping for breath. "Trouble at the camp!" he exclaimed.

Professor Jones sighed. "Don't tell me the cross beam's gone askew on the treadle again."

"No, sahib," said the runner, "it's been attacked by bandits."

The Professor raised an eyebrow and turned to Everett, Jenkins, and Pierre. "Well, that's something different," he told his guests. "We'd better have a look."

Gathering their weapons -- some rifles, Everett and Jenkins' service revolvers, and the Smith&Wesson .45 caliber `six-shooters' that seemed to be traditional wear for American field scientists -- the archaeologists and airmen headed back to camp. It seemed quiet as they approached, but Everett didn't find this reassuring. It might mean that some confrontation had been resolved peacefully. It might also mean the resolution had been sudden and final.

They arrived to find a group of servants and secretaries milling about in confusion. There was no sign of a struggle. There was also no sign of Scott and Murdock.

"What happened here, Lorinda?" Jones asked a secretary who'd been trying to impose some order.

"It was those `dacoits' they warned us about in town!" the woman exclaimed. "They rode up with ponies and pistols and carried off the Englishmen, just like in the movies!"

Jenkins glanced around the camp. It had obviously not been the scene of a desperate battle. "The servants don't seem to have put up much of a defense," he remarked to Everett.

"This is hardly surprising," the captain replied. "Many of these bandits will have been farmers driven off their land by the plantation owners. I imagine they have sympathizers. I'm more concerned about their choice of target. Someone must have informed them that our people were here."

Members of the Signal Corps were expected to possess a certain amount of deductive ability. "They must have followed our movements in Mandalay and either guessed our destination or received a report from here in Bhamo," Jenkins decided. "This would have required them to have contacts among the English community, which suggests the British Union was involved."

"Such was my thought as well," said Everett. "They've put us in a difficult situation, since I imagine we'll get blamed for their exploit. We will console ourselves with the thought that matters are unlikely to get worse."

The captain's reflections were interrupted by the sound of an engine. They looked to see Fleming speeding up the trail on the motorcycle they'd acquired in Cairns -- like all Australians, he was genetically coded to operate motor vehicles. He braked to a stop in a spray of gravel and handed Everett a message slip.

"We received a rather crook wireless from Cairns, captain," he reported. "We couldn't make it out, so Iverson thought you should see it immediately."

Everett unfolded the paper to discover a single sentence.

I have learned that some inlaws are best kept at a distance. M.

"Sir?" asked Jenkins.

Everett handed his aide the message. "He's back," he said curtly.

It hadn't taken Lieutenant Murdock long to conclude that blindfolds and bandits were a bad combination. The inconvenience of being lashed to the saddle of an ill-tempered pony as it jolted along a bumpy trail did little to improve the experience. Still, he supposed it was better than confronting dungeons and dragons in some radio drama.

Scott didn't seem to share his equanimity. "This is not the standard of treatment I expected!" the inspector announced.

Murdock felt impelled to offer some defense of the Royal Navy Airship Service. "You can hardly hold the RNAS responsible for this situation," he protested.

"That is not an acceptable excuse," snorted Scott. "You should have anticipated that a horde of dacoits would attack the camp by surprise, make their way unerringly to the tents where we were staying, and abduct us at gunpoint."

Murdock didn't feel that this criticism was entirely justified, but before he could reply, their mounts were reined to a halt and they were forced onto some sort of platform. A winch clattered overhead and the platform began to sway. Moments later, it lurched to a halt. Hands dragged them out, hustled them into a compartment, and a door clanged shut behind them. In the background, they could hear the drone of an engine.

"I say," Murdock remarked after they'd worked their way free of their bonds. "That felt rather like a Transporter ride. I do believe we're on a blimp."

"So it would seem," Scott said dryly. "Do you have any idea what type it is?"

Like most junior officers, Murdock was oblivious to sarcasm. "It appears to be a Coastal Class," he volunteered. "I served on one during training."

Conversation seemed to flag after this exchange. Hours crawled past as Murdock wondered if he'd said something wrong. At last the engine noise stopped, the door to their compartment was flung open, and a pair of thugs ordered them out. Once again, the Englishmen were bound, blindfolded, and transported -- this time in the back of a lorry -- to a new prison. The concrete walls and floor suggested this might have been a storeroom in some warehouse. An overhead lightbulb, a pair of wicker chairs, a bucket of water, and another bucket for necessities constituted the only furnishings.

"You will remain here until the Master arrives," one of the gunmen announced as he locked them in. "He will wish to question you regarding some mysteries."

"Those were rather peculiar bandits," Murdock remarked after their captors had left.

Scott gave the lieutenant an incredulous glance. "I don't believe they're bandits at all," he said. "They will be in the employ of some party who wishes to thwart my investigation."

"Goodness!" exclaimed Murdock. "However could you determine this?"

"It was elementary, Mister Murdock," sighed the inspector. "The indigenous dacoits of Burmah would not have had access to a dirigible airship. I doubt that these people mean us well. Masters and mysteries are rarely a good combination. We should make our departure."

"How will we get past that door?" asked Murdock.

"You will jimmy the latch," Scott said patiently. "I trust this skill is still taught in the dormitories at the Naval College."

"Oh yes, right," said Murdock. He glanced around for a suitable tool, then removed the collar of his jersey. This was starched within an inch of its life, in accordance with RNR-592A `Field Specifications for Uncomfortable Neckwear'. A moment's work sufficed to slide it between door and the jamb and pry the latch aside. They emerged into a darkened corridor.

"Which way should we go?" Murdock asked. "We were blindfolded on the way here."

"You should have counted your footsteps and kept track of the turns," Scott admonished him. "Follow me."

They crept down a succession of hallways, pausing at every corner to listen for guards. No one else seemed to be around, but some quality of the atmosphere suggested this place was near the ocean. As they approached what they hoped was the exit, it swung open to reveal a well-dressed gentleman accompanied by several heavily-armed thugs. The man smiled when he saw them. Murdock had seen similar smiles on sharks.

"Why, it's Scott of the Yard!" he said cheerfully. "So it was you who was asking questions in Mandalay! You must stay to enjoy my hospitality!"

The inspector came to a halt. "Baron Warfield," he said curtly.

Next week: I'm Sure They Won't Notice Us...

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