The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 85: Trukin'

Trukin', in accordance with RNR-685, 'Procedures For Truckin On'

"The Governor sent word," said Jenkins. "He ordered his police to the resort, but by the time they arrived, the nationalists had fled."

"I suppose we shouldn't be surprised," observed Everett. It had taken him and Clarice several hours to motor the captured barge to a nearby settlement, which would have given their adversaries plenty of time to escape. But the barge itself might hold some clues. "Have you finished inspecting the prize?" he asked Abercrombie.

"It had a hydrogen plant, just as ye guessed, Captain" said the Scotsman, "wi' a wee little steam generator an' a great big load of iron filings. I couldnae find anything tae show where it came from, but I did find this." He held up the cloth Clarice had used to protect her clothing: a brightly patterned swath of some unfamiliar fabric that could have been anything from a beach towel to a curtain.

"It looks like a tapa," Jenkins observed.

"What's that?" asked Emily.

"It's a traditional form of apparel in the South Pacific. This one is particularly colorful, which suggests it belonged to a woman."

"This is clothing?" asked Clarice, taking the thing from Abercrombie and holding it up as if trying to determine how much, if any, of a woman's figure it could possibly cover.

"The missionaries didn't approve," said Jenkins, "but I don't believe they approved of much of anything. I've always wondered why anyone listened to the fellows."

"They did have friends with guns," observed Davies.

The signalman nodded. "I suppose this might have been a compelling argument in favor of their point of view."

"How did an article of woman's clothing get aboard the..." Clarice began to ask. "It's a legitimate question!" she added when she noticed everyone staring at her.

"I'm more interested in where it came from," said Everett. "Miss Sarah, this is your part of the world. Do you have any speculations?"

The island girl took the cloth from Clarice, and wrapped it around her hips in a way that would have been certain to raise eyebrows had this been her only attire. She swayed in the beginning of a dance, then took it off to study the design.

"You can tell where these are made by how they're decorated," she said. "Each island has its own tradition. My people favor legendary figures like the Youth With the Climbing Vine or the Red-Hooded Maiden. Other islands prefer birds, fish, flowers, or abstract patterns. I believe this particular cloth came from Truk."

"Mister MacKiernan?" asked Everett.

"It's a ring of atolls some distance to the north," said the Exec. "As I recall, the place is claimed by Germany."

Everett nodded. "Plot a course there at our most economical cruising speed. If possible, I'd like to arrive tomorrow morning."

"What do you think we'll find?" asked the Irishman.

"I don't have the slightest idea. But we do have one possible source of information."


"I believe it's time we spoke with our passenger."

Antonio Notarellio had endured the voyage without complaint -- behavior Everett found surprising from a representative of a culture and profession both known for their intransigence. The Italian seemed equally unperturbed by the summons to the mess hall. Immaculately groomed, impeccably dressed, he made his entrance, nodded to his audience, and took a seat before them. "How can I help you?" he asked in his rich golden tenor. Everett almost expected the man to burst into song.

"We have some questions about your acquaintance, the late Yakov," he replied. "He does not seem to have been an individual of any particular distinction, but he managed to attract the attention of several unsavory nationalist groups from Germany and Russia. Do you have any idea what he was up to?"

The Italian shook his head sorrowfully. "Poor Yakov. He always was a macchinatore: a schemer. I warned him this was no good, but he was not a man to listen."

"Could he have stolen something of military importance?"

Notariello puzzled over this question for so long that Everett found himself wondering about the extent of the man's command of English. "Not Yakov," the singer said at last. "He knew nothing of military affairs. His interest was in works of art."

Truk was actually a number of islands spaced around a large lagoon. It occurred to Everett that this might make an excellent naval base -- a Polynesian version of Scapa Flow -- in the unlikely event of some large-scale conflict in the South Pacific, but the only vessels in sight today were a few copra schooners and a steamship belonging to some missionary organization. The Administrator's residence was on the island of Weno, in a village named Mone, at the head of a body of water with the improbable name of Pou Bay. There seemed no need to worry about violence in such an out-of-the-way location so Everett gave his crew liberty, but he kept a guard aboard the airship, just in case.

The Administrator of the German territories in Truk seemed happy to receive them -- it couldn't be often he had an opportunity to entertain Western guests. Apolitical himself, he was quite happy to talk about the nationalists. But he didn't have much to say.

"There may be a few around," he said as he poured them drinks, "followers of that Strasser fellow. It is hard to keep an eye on them without a real police force, but it is difficult to imagine them raising a following among the islanders." He smiled at the absurdity of such a concept.

'We have reason to believe that a freighter named the Inselmädchen called here recently," said Everett. "Do you have any record of their port of departure?"

"I remember this vessel," said the Administrator. "An old coastal steamer from the Baltic -- Gott knows how it ended up in the Pacific with such a name. I have no idea where they hailed from. We do not have the staff to keep track of such things. But if you ask around the village, you might find someone who knows."

The Administrator's optimism proved misplaced. The inhabitants of Truk seemed to have little interest in visiting ships except as a source of `cargo' -- a word with semi-mystical overtones that Everett and his party did not entirely comprehend. After several hours of fruitless queries, they retired to the closest thing Mone had to a pub. This was located in a large fale, open to the tropical breezes, with a roof of thatch to keep out the sun. A print behind the bar showed a woman in an adventurous bathing costume together with the words, "If you've got it, flaunt it... in a Ujelang!". At the other end of the floor, a young man sang while a sultry island maiden accompanied him on a ukulele. To her surprise, Clarice recognized the words of an old English folk song.

So early, early in the spring
I shipped on board to serve my king
I left my dearest dear behind
She oftimes swore her heart was mine

And all the time I sailed the seas
I could not find a moment's ease
For thinking of my dearest dear
but never a word of her could I hear

"I will head back to the ship," announced Everett. "I need to contemplate our next move."

Clarice watched the captain go, wondering at the reason for his abrupt departure. She'd seen nothing during their brief acquaintance to explain such behavior. She turned to ask Jenkins if anything was wrong, but then the barmaid arrived to take their orders and the question was forgotten.

When they returned to the Flying Cloud, they found Everett standing on the bridge, gazing out to sea with a satisfied expression. His mood seemed bright, as if he'd just found the solution to some challenging puzzle. He looked up as they approached.

"Our adversaries seemed determined to hide from us," he observed, "but I believe we have the resources to draw them out."

"How," asked MacKiernan.

The captain smiled. "We'll hold an opera!"

Next week: The Flying Cloud Opera...

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