Episode 58: The Savage Darwinian Struggle For Survival
"Captain," gasped Abercrombie. The rigger seemed desperate, at the limit of
his endurance. "I'm not sure I can last much longer."
"Hold on, man," said Everett reassuringly. "You can make it."
"If I can't make it... you go on without me."
"Steady there. You're an Englishman."
"Actually, I'm a Scottish, sir."
"Oh, that's all right then."
They were attending a reception; one of several the people of Darwin had
organized in their honor. Everett had never imagined it was possible to
schedule so many social events in so small a town. The affairs must have
outnumbered the inhabitants, and each one had been more excruciating than
the last. He stepped aside as a convoy of young women swept past, escorted
by a ferocious-looking pair of matrons. He'd seen dreadnoughts that were
less substantial. One of the young ladies looked familiar. He remembered
her from the ball during their previous visit -- an experience he'd been
trying to forget.
Jenkins appeared at his side. "I've made our excuses to the host," said the
signalman. "We're scheduled to attend another affair in an hour."
"What is it this time?" asked Abercrombie glumly.
"We've been invited to the opening of a brewery."
The Scotsman brightened. "Would they mind if we arrived an hour early?"
"We'll miss the main event," observed Jenkins. "Some visiting Italian tenor
is supposed to sing selections from the opera."
"This might be an acceptable sacrifice," said Everett, who'd spotted the
convoy returning and wished to be gone before it arrived. "If anyone asks
about our departure, we can claim it was Navy business."
"Look, Clarice," said Emily, "isn't that the awful captain we met last month?"
"I believe it is, but he appears to be leaving."
"For which we should be grateful."
Outside, the night was humid, a foretaste of the `Wet' -- the long rainy
season that dominated much of the year. But this was preferable to the
stifling atmosphere they'd escaped. Light from the pavilion spilled across
the street, illuminating a row of shops. A stray bit of graffiti caught
Fanny Glee McGlew Naps Cath Hulu
Really A Wagon A Gulf Tag Inn!
He shook his head at the dialect. Whatever the thing meant, it reflected
badly on educational standards in this part of the Empire.
"That Channel fellow seems determined to place obstacles in our path,"
"Aye," said Abercrombie. "I've faced many things in the Service, but I'm
not sure I can face more matrons."
"At least we've escaped Channel's spies," said Everett
This was true. The police chief's reach might be long, but it didn't extend
to getting his minions invited to the affairs of the aristocracy -- to the
extent that Darwin had an aristocracy. It was a small coastal village, with
none of the airs of a big city. It also lacked amenities such as
streetlamps, so they didn't spot their attackers until the last moment.
"Get 'em," hissed someone.
Everett glanced up to see three thugs charge them from the shadows. There
was no time to flee, or draw a weapon even if he'd had one, so he faced his
opponent -- a massive brute with an ugly scar down one cheek -- and prepared
for a fight. The thug grinned, expecting an easy victory over an opponent
he outweighed by several stone. Everett took the man down with a
wrestling move he'd learned back at the College, made sure the fellow was
unconscious, then turned to see how his companions had fared.
"This fellow was no match for a Scotsman," said the rigger, gazing down at
his fallen foe.
"I was fleet bareknuckle champion back in Liverpool," said the
signalman. He tsked at the state of Everett's jacket and reached out to
adjust the collar. "If you'll allow me."
Abercrombie went through their assailant's pockets. "There's nothing to
identify the fellows, but they can't have been ordinary robbers. They
were waiting in ambush, as if they'd been told to expect us."
"Do you think Channel was behind this?" asked Jenkins.
"Perhaps," mused Everett. "But there are other players in this game: the
Russians, the German nationalists, the German government, and goodness knows
who else. They could even have been pearl smugglers seeking revenge for
that fishing boat we impounded."
"What should we do with the fellows?" asked Abercrombie.
"I'm not sure," said Everett. "I'm loath to turn them over to Channel. If
they aren't his men, he'll interrogate them and use what he learns to his
advantage. But we can't just leave them here or they might chase us when
they wake up."
"Remove their clothing," suggested Jenkins. "That should place them at a
This task proved awkward, for RNAS training did
not extend to removing clothing from other members of one's own gender.
It was also unpleasant, for their foes' understanding of personal
hygiene had been somewhat limited. But at last it was done.
"Where does he get these ideas?" whispered the Scotsman as they resumed
their progress toward the brewery.
"Best not to ask," Everett replied. "Signalman have mysteries that are not
for such as you and I to understand."
"I hope we dinnae have tae do that again."
The Scotsman's hopes proved in vain. They hadn't gone much farther before
they heard another cry.
"There they are!"
The second group of attackers proved as easy to subdue as the first. A
moment's work and three more thugs were lying senseless on the ground.
"I'm afraid this jacket will need to be pressed," said Jenkins. "We can
make do with your Number Twos in the meantime, provided the affair isn't
"I imagine there's nothing to identify these chaps either," said Everett.
"Not that I can find," said Abercrombie.
"I hope this doesn't represent the beginning of a trend," observed Jenkins.
"We'll be wanting tae strip these fellows as well?" asked Abercrombie
"It seems a reasonable precaution," noted Everett.
This unsavory task complete, the companions were about to set off again
when Jenkins called a halt.
"Sir," he observed. ""It occurs to me that we have been presented with an
opportunity. Two different groups have made an unsuccessful attempt to kidnap
us. Neither one has any way of knowing that the other one failed. We could
take advantage of this situation to drop out of sight."
"This could be difficult, garbed as we are in distinctive naval uniforms,"
Jenkins indicated the clothing they'd stolen from their assailants.
"I believe we have the means to address this problem."
Next week: The Results of His Inquiries...