Episode 96: Varieties of Seamanship
Captain Everett sat in his cabin, studying the ship's log. Instinct told
him that matters were approaching a climax, but he didn’t have the slightest
idea what form this might take. What were the nationalists up to? And what
was the nature of this mysterious Device? The elaborate web of conspiracies
surrounding the thing suggested it was more than an ordinary weapon, but
what could possibly be so important? It seemed the answers were to be
found on Ujelang. This was a problem they could address. Uncapping his
pen, he began an entry.
27-September-1926, 2200 hours, Lat 165° 40’ E, Long 10° 03’ N, His
Majesty’s Airship Flying Cloud, R-505, Captain Roland P. Everett
cmdr. Recovered Bikini party 2112 hours along with prisoner, Agent White.
Ensign Jenkins rpts White planned to betray them to the nationalists, but
was thwarted by Civilian Specialist Wilcox’s quick thinking and imaginative
use of indigenous fruit. Jenkins also rpts the nationalists have
established a base on Ujelang. Their defenses sound formidable, but I
have a plan that should
A soft knock sounded outside his cabin. "Yes," he said, setting the pen
He looked up to see Sarah standing in the doorway. The island girl was
dressed in one of the neatly-tailored outfits she’d adopted in lieu of a
uniform. Her expression was determined, as if she’d reached some sort of
"Miss Sarah," he said politely. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I have finished mourning," she announced. "I’m ready to return to my
Everett glanced into the corridor to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard,
then gestured for the girl to take a seat. "Are you sure of your motives?"
he asked gently. "I understand your loss, but we are not on a mission of
retribution. We still have no clear idea what is at stake. It’s possible
we might confront the parties responsible for Lieutenant Iverson’s death
under circumstances that compel us to cooperate with them against some third
party. I have also learned, to my sorrow, that revenge has its costs."
"I know," said Sarah. "Notariello told me the same thing."
Everett raised his eyebrows. "The Italian said that?"
"Yes," Sarah replied, "and it is not a price I’m willing to pay. But I
have to see this thing through."
Everett studied the girl’s face, trying to judge her resolve. She met his
gaze unflinchingly. At last he nodded.
"Very well. Welcome back, Miss Sarah! We may have a mission that requires
your special skills."
"Oof!" exclaimed Davies, as a dollop of spray caught him in the face.
"Trim!" cried Sarah. "And hike out harder! Now!"
Abercrombie hauled on the mainsheet and Everett leaned back along the
outrigger as the proa accelerated down the face of a wave. Twin lines of
spray curled back from the vessel’s prow, drumming against the sail. At
the steering paddle, Sarah shouted with glee.
"What a great day!"
Everett had to agree. It had been many years since he’d held the tiller of
small sailboat, but he remembered what it was like to feel the craft come
alive in his hands. He smiled, remembering a more innocent age, when the
world was young and anything seemed possible. Davies seemed less
"Could you explain to me again, sir, why this is absolutely necessary?"
asked the marine.
It was a reasonable question. They’d purchased the proa on a small island
with the unlikely name of Wotho, loaded it aboard the Flying Cloud,
and flown it to a position some distance southeast of Ujelang. Now they
were heading north on a starboard tack, miles from the nearest land.
"Agent White will almost certainly have betrayed our presence to the
nationalists," Everett explained. "They’ll be watching out for our motor
launch, so we’ll use their expectations against them. They can’t
possibly stop and investigate every canoe that sails these waters."
"Won’t they intercept anyone who tries to land?" asked Davies.
"We’ll leave the island to the west for now," said Everett. "After sunset,
we’ll bear up on the opposite tack and approach the place under cover of
night. The moon won’t rise for six hours. Our adversaries will never
expect us to negotiate the breakers, thread our way through an unknown
passage in the reef, and land in pitch darkness."
The marine also seemed dubious about this prospect. He glanced at Jenkins
for support, but the signalman shrugged as if to say that this sort of
performance was to be expected of officers in the Royal Naval Airship
Service. Beside them, Abercrombie’s dour face twisted into a smile as their
craft lifted to another swell.
In the bow, Notariello began to sing.
They negotiated the entrance to the lagoon without disaster. Inside, the
surf gave way to gentle ripples that lapped against the hull as they
skimmed through the night. Everett navigated by starlight, taking bearings
on the silhouettes of the surrounding islands. As they passed tiny Daisu
islet, they lowered the mast and continued under paddles. With no
moonlight to give them away, their low craft would be almost invisible.
Ujelang was a long low sliver of land to the south. Lights gleamed from
the western end. As they drew closer, they could make out a jetty,
where a powerful-looking motor launch lay ready for sea. Beyond this, the
long bulk of a moored airship was dark against the sky.
"I’d say that looks rather promising," observed Jenkins.
"It does suggest we’ve come to the right place," said Everett.
"What are your plans, sir?" asked Davies.
The captain rested his paddle as he studied the distant lights. "This is a
more substantial establishment than I’d anticipated. I’d intended to
investigate the place at night, but it would be poor form to blunder about
in the darkness when we have no idea how many guards they have. We’ll put
ashore at the other end of the island, find a place to hide the canoe, and
get some sleep. Come morning, we’ll spy out the lay of the land."
Dawn arrived with tropical swiftness. Shadows resolved themselves into
palm trees, a line of beach, and the remains of a hut, abandoned after the
nationalists had evacuated the local population. As the voyagers were
breaking their fast, an unfamiliar bugle call sounded from the east.
"That would be the German version of Reveille," said Jenkins.
"These fellows don’t seem to be making much attempt to conceal their
presence," remarked Davies.
"Aye," said Abercrombie with a grin. "Wi’ luck they’ll be
"I say," remarked Sarah, who’d been going over the ground to erase every
sign of their camp. "It looks like someone else hid a canoe here."
Everett shrugged. "I imagine it was left by some of the natives. It can’t
have anything to do with us. Let’s see what these fellows are about."
With Sarah in the lead, they set off through the forest. The island girl
carried her spear, and the others bore service revolvers, but they were
trusting to stealth rather than force of arms, for they were almost certain
to be outnumbered if it came to a fight. Fortunately, the forest offered
plenty of scope for concealment, and they had little fear of discovery.
Some distance west of the nationalist’s main encampment, a low tower rose
above the forest. This seemed like a good place to investigate first. A
short march brought them to a clearing where someone had hacked down and
dragged away a circle of trees. A squat concrete blockhouse stood in the
center guarded by two bored-looking sentries. The tower rose above it,
silent and enigmatic.
"Whatever could it be?" whispered Jenkins.
Everett had been wondering the same thing. The structure was too low to
serve as a watchtower or a mooring mast. "It might be some manner of
observation post," he mused, "for birdwatchers or other folk of that sort.
I doubt it’s important."
They heard a sharp intake of breath behind them. Everett turned to
see Notariello gazing at the blockhouse with wide shining eyes. For a
moment, he feared the man would burst into song.
"That is it!" the tenor announced. "I recognize it from their map! That is
where they have hidden the Instruments of Joy!"
Next week: The Instrument...
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