R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 42: Long Dispela Warafran

Rashid about to sling a stone

"Davies, lad!" said Abercrombie, "what happened to ye?"

The marine was favoring his hip as if it was bruised. He also sported what looked like a set of claw marks on his arms.

"I..." he began, then he paused as Helga walked by. The two men watched the woman pass with a mixture of awe and respect.

"I know," said Abercrombie. "That's five of us so far, by my count: you, me, Wallace, Loris, and I believe I saw Rashid limping the other day."

The marine's eyes widened. "What will she do when she runs out of enlisted men?"

"Ah dinnae ken. But there could be trouble."

The governor of Kupang proved every bit as evasive as Captain Everett had expected, dodging questions with the ease of a polished bureaucrat, and Jenkins's examination of shipping records turned up nothing, so Everett ordered his crew to split up and investigate the port for evidence of the mystery airship, the Duck, and the Tualua's Dream. Sarah and Iwamoto were the obvious choice to check the air station. Helga and Fleming were chosen to make the rounds of shipping agents. This left Pierre, Abercrombie, and Rashid with the unsavory job of exploring the harbor district itself. The three men dressed for the role, exchanging their uniforms for ragged civilian garb, then watched the others depart.

"There will be trouble between those two," observed Pierre, indicating Helga and Sarah. Even from a distance, their hostility was apparent.

"Ye could say something to the lassies," said Abercrombie.

"It wouldn't do any good," sighed the Frenchman. "As a man of the world, it has been my experience that men do not know how to talk, and women do not know how to listen."

"Let us hope we do not find trouble ourselves," said Rashid. "I do not like the feel of this town."

It was not an encouraging place. The Dutch, never the most enlightened of colonial powers, had done little to maintain the port beyond the minimum necessary to support their spice trade. The result was a warren of fortified warehouses and godowns, disreputable-looking chandleries, seedy bars, and questionable shops with even more questionable merchandise. The inhabitants seemed to come from all corners of the earth, with garb that ranged from silk robes to grass penis-sheaths, while the police were noteworthy by their absence. The air was thick with the smell of refuse.

"Ah!" said Pierre, remembering a childhood on the wharves of Marseilles. "It is good to be back on the waterfront."

"Perhaps," grumbled Abercrombie. "If ye like prowlin' through a dump. I could hae learned an honest trade. I could hae had class. I could hae been sombody! But instead I joined the Navy."

The Frenchman smiled. "Let us find our information and be done. Then we can have a drink."

The three men commanded a dozen languages between them, but in such a polyglot place, this was not enough. As the search progressed, they were reduced to asking questions in pidgin. These were met with suspicion and hostility.

"Yu savvy boskru bilong sip kolim Pato?"

"Watpo yu askim dispela kwesten? Yu kisim bikpela trabol."

"I dinnae ken we're gettin' anywhere," Abercrombie grumbled as they made their way down one of the filth-strewn lanes.

"Perhaps," said Pierre, "but I believe we've attracted attention." A band of thugs had emerged from an alley ahead. Knives gleamed in meaty brown fists. Around them, the crowd was making itself scarce.

"So," said Rashid, as he reached down to unfasten the braided cord he wore as a belt.

"What is this man doing?" Pierre asked in alarm.

"Watch," said Abercrombie knowingly.

The Persian slipped the third finger of his right hand through a loop in one end of the cord, fitted a stone to a pouch in the middle, then gripped the other end between his thumb and forefinger. Satisfied, he whirled the sling around his head and let fly.

CRACK! The first thug toppled as the rock ricocheted off his skull. The others hesitated.

"Yu laik dai?" asked Rashid, fitting another stone. "Mi hamanas tru kilim." His voice was flat with menace.

"Yu nogat kilim, mipela go," said one the thugs, raising his hands.

"Yu lusim, yu gat laip."

"Formidable!" Pierre exclaimed after their assailants had fled. "This man should have been an athlete!"

"Aye!" agreed Abercrombie. "He could hae been a contender!"

"We found several records of what might have been our mystery airship," reported Sarah after everyone was back at the ship. "She was a German packet, the L-137. Their last visit took place three weeks ago. They left unexpectedly, without filing for clearance, but for some reason the governor didn't file a protest. And it appears that the Wolkenflieger was here a short time earlier."

"This ship?" asked MacKiernan.

"L-505," said Sarah. "The same number she had when we took her. She visited this port seven weeks ago -- three weeks before she appeared at our island."

All eyes turned to Iwamoto. "Do you recall this visit?" asked Everett.

"This not my job," said the engineer. "I..."

"...come with engines," muttered several people in unison.

"Fleming," asked Everett, "did you and Miss Helga learn anything from the shipping agents?"

"Several people here knew of the Tualua's Dream. It appears the vessel had a contract to carry supplies to a phosphate mine on an island called Oa Ki, some distance to the east. Their last visit occurred two months ago."

"'Oa Ki'?" said MacKiermnan. "That name sounds Polynesian. What's it doing here?"

"It would mean something like `key to wealth'", said Jenkins. "And Polynesian settlements have been found on small coral islands throughout Melanesia."

"An unlikely setting for a phosphate mine," observed MacKiernan. "Should we procure some native craft and send a party to investigate?"

"Time is of the essence," said Everett, "so I instructed Jenkins to purchase a fast motorboat of a type used by smugglers of alcoholic beverages in the United States. I believe our two ladies are the obvious choice for this partiucular mission."

The launch's engine was a thing of beauty -- a 12-cylinder Liberty converted for marine use. Iwamoto was inspecting it when Sarah stepped aboard. Her expression, normally so sunny, was dark. While the engineer was not one to intrude on another's privacy, he couldn't help but notice that the girl had been crying.

"Please forgive interruption," he said, searching this difficult language for the correct words. "You seem troubled."

"That woman!" cried Sarah. "She's dreadful! She's already seduced half the crew and now she's going after the officers! I can't let her get away with that!"

"Hai," said Iwamoto, as much to himself as her. "Sometimes you must make stand."

"I will!" she said, brandishing her spear.

"Iye! That not what I meant..."

Next week: Catfight at the Oa Ki Corral...

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit