The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 416: "...Find An Archaeologist..."

The 'Delfin' again

Iverson and Sarah glanced at the captain, wondering at his reaction to Pierre's report. It seemed excessive. Why should Scott's visit to an oil company office be cause for concern?

Iverson asked as much.

"It suggests a connection with the Burmah Oil Scandal," Everett replied. "I am troubled by the implications."

"You mentioned this when we were searching for Lord and Lady Milford," said Sarah. "What was this all about?"

"A few years ago, the Burmah Oil Company paid a... retainer... to a powerful member of parliament to acquire exclusive rights to some oil fields in Persia," said Everett. "When this became public, it led to an outcry. Our adversaries the Warfields were heavily involved in the affair. They had close ties to the company, and were instrumental in offering the unfortunate Sir Reginald Elmsford as a scapegoat."

"Who was the MP?" asked Iverson. "Is he still in office?"

"It was that Churchill fellow, and I can't imagine him ever abandoning politics," said Everett. "He was First Lord of Admiralty until he was forced to resign after the Gallipoli fiasco..." the captain rubbed the scar on his wrist, "...but after the War, he rejoined the government as a Conservative, and he's since become Chancellor of the Exchequer. He always has his eye on the next prize. I wouldn't be surprised if he hopes to become Prime Minister some day."

"Could Inspector Scott be his agent?" asked the lieutenant.

"It's most certainly possible," said Everett. "Churchill could have sent him to cover up some connection here, or to reopen one. It's equally possible one of his adversaries sent Scott in search of information to discredit him. This is a contest we'll wish to avoid."

"Do you think the Warfields are involved?" asked Sarah.

"I imagine so," said Everett. "The Baron is hardly one to sit idle when money or influence is at stake, and we know that the Baroness has made her way back to the Pacific to take over Baronet Moseley's British Union of Fascists. But we have no way of knowing if Churchill would regard them as friends or foes. A nationalist organization like the British Union might appeal to him as a political tool... or he might reject it outright as un-British."

There seemed little more they could do until Scott returned, so Everett dismissed the others to return to their duties. After they were gone, Jenkins turned to his captain. Everett might seem unperturbed, but it was the duty of an aide to recognize his captain's moods.

"Sir," he said, "you seem troubled by Lady Warfield's involvement."

Everett stared out the window. It was a long time before he spoke. "It's difficult not to be, given our... history," he sighed. "I'd thought she was gone after she broke off the engagement. We think these people safely out of our lives, but the world is not as large as we think. Still, I've done my best to come to terms with the situation. Matters must be harder for Michaelson."

Inspector Scott seemed chronically incapable of arriving anywhere without making an entrance. No sooner was he back aboard the Flying Cloud than he was holding court in the mess hall. If he noticed signs of exasperation among his audience, he didn't seem concerned.

"I have completed the first phase of my inquiries," he announced. "According to his itinerary, the Professor was scheduled to arrive here on 5th of September to meet a team of archaeologists from his University of Chicago."

So Scott did make off with the Professor's papers, just as Jenkins suspected, thought Everett. I wonder what else he's keeping to himself. "What are your plans now?" he asked.

"We must speak with these archaeologists," Scott replied patiently, as if explaining something to a small child. "It seems they were investigating some site on Kelabit Highlands. We'll pay a visit to the place."

It would have been extravagant to take Flying Cloud on such a short flight, so Everett chartered an island blimp to carry them up the coast. The vessel was an old American C-class, converted to commercial service after decommissioning. Her master was a short man with a dark complexion and a polite manner -- one of the many South Asians who seemed to be replacing the Chinese as merchants and traders throughout the Pacicit.

"Where would you like to travel, sahibs?" he asked.

"Take us to the Kelabit Highlands," Scott said brusquely.

The skipper nodded. "By your command."

Travel by blimp was a good way to cultivate patience, and it was late afternoon by the time they reached the air station at Long Lellang. This seemed a joint enterprise by lumber companies, mining interests, and some missionary organization that believed lumberjacks and miners needed spiritual guidance. An old Coastal class blimp rode from one of the masts. Peering at her prow, the airmen could make out the name Delfin.

"Oh dear," said Jenkins. "Him again."

"You're familiar with this vessel?" snapped Scott.

"I'm afraid so," said Everett. "She belongs to an exiled Russian archaeologist named Professor Otkupshchikov. Every season, he carts his ship south to some air station near the Tropic of Capricorn, then spends the next several months making a traverse back toward the equator, examining various sites along the way. We've encountered him before."

"Professor... Otkupshchikov," Scott said carefully, as if he regarded this collection of syllables as an affront to humanity. "We will pay the man a visit."

They found the Professor seated in front of a tent, making notes in a leather-bound volume. He brightened when he saw them. "Dobry den," he said cheerfully. "I recognize Captain Everett. Who is this gentlemen who accompanies you?"

"Good day Professor Otk... Professor," said Scott. "I presume you're here to conduct some research."

"Da," said the Professor. "I heard that colleagues from the University of Chicago were here to examine a site associated with the Empire of Srivijaya, so I decided to pay them a visit. Unfortunately, they were gone by the time I arrived."

"What is this Empire of Srivijaya?" Scott asked skeptically, as if he suspected the Russian of making it up.

"It is a civilization that flourished in the Dutch East Indies during the first millennium," said the Professor. "Its origin is something of a mystery. Records from Tang Dynasty China suggest it was in place by the 7th Century, but it seems to have sprung full grown from the void, with no antecedents. My colleagues believe it was founded by emigrants from some contemporary culture."

"And where might this `contemporary culture' have been?" asked Scott.

Professor Otkupshchikov rubbed his chin. "I didn't have a chance to ask, but the most likely possibilities would be the Malay Peninsula or Indochina. I believe that's where my colleagues are now."

Scott harrumphed as if this confirmed some suspicion. "Thank you," he said brusquely. "Captain Everett, we are done here. Instruct our man to take us back to the ship."

Next week: Thumper Fidelis...

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