The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 442: This Bridge Over The River N'Mai Business Couldn't Go On Forever

Burmah Petroleum base under attack

Bludge crept through the brush without making a sound. This was an ability butlers shared with elephants, and he had a foot in both camps. Behind him, the dacoits clutched their new Martini Henry rifles and did their best to emulate his stealth. The rising moon, a few days past full, cast faint shadows ahead of them.

At the head of the ravine, a tall chainlink fence glimmered in the night.

"I don't see any sentries," said Gilman.

"These people seem to have become complacent after they drove away the local inhabitants," Bludge observed. "This is an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences."

"How will we get over the fence?"

"That will not be necessary," said Bludge. He took the links in his hands, pulled, and tore them apart like man ripping open a curtain. The invaders ducked through the opening, dashed across the perimeter lane, and paused in the shadow of a hydrogen tank.

"Where's this laboratory we're looking for?" asked Gilman.

Bludge had no need to consult the map they'd obtained from their agents. Good memory was another talent shared by butlers and elephants. He pointed down an alley.

"That way."

It seemed they hadn't been detected. No one contested their passage as they crept past a row of workshops. Then a light shone from their left and a voice cried out.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

Two workmen stood in a doorway, gazing at them in surprise. Bludge stepped forward and floored one with a rap to the skull, but the other had already lunged for a phone.

"Intruders!" he cried, "North of the marshaling yard!"

"What shall we do?" asked Gilman as a siren began to sound.

Bludge sighed. A butler's life was filled with challenges such as these.

"Keep calm and carry on."

Sigmund paid no notice to the cold as he waded cross the ford. He'd endured far worse during the War. Behind him, the hillmen didn't seem quite as stoic. They clutched their ancient Sneider-Enfields and muttered to themselves as they forced their way through the current. On the other side, a bluff loomed above them. Sigmund gestured and one of the hillmen scrambled up the slope. Moments later, a rope snaked down. The others used this to haul themselves to the top, where a perimeter fence was silhouetted by the light of the rising moon.

"No one's on guard," said Kurt.

Sigmund gave a snort of derision. "These people drove away the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. Now they allow their precautions to lapse. This is an example of the Gesetz Der Unbeabsichtigten Folgen."

"How will we get through the fence?"

"Easily," said Sigmund. He reached into his pack to produce a set of wire cutters. Seconds later the invaders were dashing to the cover of row of toolsheds.

"Where do we go now?" asked Kurt.

Sigmund had studied the air station through his binoculars with skills honed by the War. "That's their prison stockade ahead," he said. "The laboratory is beyond it."

No one challenged them as they crept from shadow to shadow. It seemed they might reach their goal without being noticed. Then a light shone from their right and a voice called out.

"Anata! Jibun o tokutei suru!"

Sigmund turned to see two soldiers holding electric torches. He brought one down with a flying tackle, but the other had already lunged for a nearby alarm and pulled the handle.

"What do we do now?" asked Kurt as a siren began to sound.

Sigmund grinned. Soon these Japanese would learn what Germans were made of.

"We fight."

Service in the Warfield household had taught Bludge patience in the face of adversity. The butler needed this now. Who were these other invaders? Why had they chose this moment to attack? And how could they tell friend from foe in the resulting confusion?

"I can't tell who's fighting who!" yelled Gilman.

Bludge repressed an imprecation. It wouldn't help matters. "We will content ourselves with the knowledge that things are unlikely to grow worse," he replied.

But the shipper was ignoring him to stare at the sky.

As a veteran of the War, Sigmund had seen many attacks dissolve in confusion. This didn't make the experience any more palatable now. Who were these new attackers? Why had they chosen precisely the wrong time to attack from the opposite direction? And how was he going to regain control of the situation?

"Where did these idiots come from?" Kurt yelled.

"It doesn't matter!" Sigmund yelled back. "We will crush both sides and be glad things aren't worse!"

Kurt began to nod, then his eyes widened as he turned to stare at the sky.

Abercrombie, Miss Kim, and Forsythe peered from the windows, watching a line of figures to the west exchange fire with others to the south.

"What's that all about?" asked Forsythe.

"I dinnae ken," said Abercrombie. "But we can free the rest of our people in the confusion!"

He dashed across the exercise yard to the other barracks, shattered the bar with a blow of his fist, and kicked open the door. Inside, familiar faces from the R-212 stared at him in surprise.

"Abercombie!" exclaimed one. "What are you doing here?"

"Rescuing you! Follow me!"

Glancing back to make sure they obeyed, he led the way to the prison fence. There was no time to climb this, so he seized one of the uprights, ripped it free of the ground, and held it aloft so the others could scramble under the barrier. They hadn't gone far before they saw a second line of invaders to the east exchanging fire with the defenders.

Abercrombie glanced around, then gestured toward a windowless structure to their left.

"We'll nae get through that rammy," he warned. "Let's take cover in this building and wait for the laddies to pass."

Miss Perkins was shuffling the cards when a siren began to sound. This was followed by shouts and the sound of gunfire.

"What's that all about?" she asked Nicholson.

"The men seem to be holding an unauthorized celebration," the manager replied smoothly. "You will wish to remain here while Mister Saito and I deal with the matter."

Miss Perkins waited for their hosts to leave, then glanced at MacKiernan. "Do you think it could be Abercrombie?" she asked

MacKiernana shook his head. "Even a Scotsman couldn't make such fuss. Still, this might be a good time for us to depart."

They collected Professor Jones, and set off for the marshaling yard, where they'd parked their motorcycles. They found their path blocked by a flashes of gunfire from the east. This was answered by other flashes from the south and west.

MacKiernan frowned, then gestured toward a windowless structure to their right. "We seem to have stumbled into an altercation," he observed. "I suggest we take cover in this building and wait for the fighting to move past us."

The Irishman pushed open the door to discover a large room that appeared to be a laboratory. As he watched, a door swung open on the other side. His eyes widened in surprise.

"Abercrombie!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"Waiting for the fray to be over, the same as you," said the Scotsman. "D'ye ken who's fighting?"

"I don't have the slightest idea," MacKiernan admitted. "I imagine this confusion will resolve itself in time."

Abercrombie seemed about to answer, but then something caught his eye. He glanced over his shoulder, then turned back to face MacKiernan and smiled.

"D'ye want tae put some money on that?"

Next week: Some People Seem To Glide Through Life Without A Care...

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