Episode 110: A Destination of Questionable Value
The landing party made it back to the ship without too much trouble. The
savages didn't attempt to contest their departure and the Transporter didn't
choose this moment to misbehave. When they reached the cargo hold, they
found Captain Everett waiting to hear their report.
"It all seems to fit," said the MacKiernan, after he'd finished describing
their adventures. "We know Wasserman is working for the governor of Sarah's
Island. We also know that the governor has betrayed the German nationalists
to ally himself with the masters of this mysterious cruiser.
Wasserman seemed to be waiting for us. I imagine he received his
information from Blacker's confederates in Cairns."
"Perhaps," mused Everett, "but I am reluctant to draw any conclusions at
this point. I wonder if this picture fits together a bit too neatly."
"It's a pity we couldn't lay our hands on Wasserman," said MacKiernan. "I
would have liked to ask the man some pointed questions."
"You were hardly in a position to pursue the fellow," Everett observed. "We
should be grateful to Miss Perkins for negotiating a peaceful resolution to
the encounter." He nodded to the secretary, who was studying the pile of
captured war clubs the party had brought back to the ship with an expression
"What shall we do with these?" she asked, in the same tone of voice one
might use in the presence of a dead rat.
Sarah picked up one of the weapons, turned it over in her hands, and eyed
Miss Perkins speculatively. Recognizing trouble, Everett stepped forward to
intervene. "If we're fortunate, they might provide some clues about the
Governor's connections," he observed. "Miss Sarah, do you have any idea
where they might have come from?"
The island girl whirled the club through a few simple attacks and parries to
test its balance. Satisfied, she set it back on the pile. "I can't
identify the tribe," she replied, "but they're from somewhere in the New
Hebrides. I recognize the workmanship. Such as it is."
"You're sure?" asked Miss Perkins skeptically.
"Of course," said Sarah with an innocent smile. "My people used to collect
them as trophies back when we raided the place for food."
"Food?" MacKiernan whispered to Jenkins.
"Best not to speculate," the signalman replied.
"The New Hebrides," mused Everett. "I cannot help but wonder why Captain
Michaelson chose to send us to precisely the same place. Miss Perkins, can
you shed any light on this coincidence?"
"No," said the secretary, as if the captain had committed some unpardonable
breach of manners.
Everett nodded. "I suspected as much. I imagine he's using us as a stalking
horse, giving us enough rope to hang ourselves if we're complicit in some
plot, and also hoping we might find some sign of the cruiser."
"Whatever would it be doing out here?" asked Jenkins.
"A vessel that size will require substantial resupply," said Everett, "much
more than a packet or a patrol ship. They can't be obtaining this from any
of the major ports or we would have heard word of them, so they must be
calling at places off the beaten track. And it's hard to imagine a more
out-of-the-way spot than the New Hebrides."
"What's it like?" asked Miss Perkins, curiosity finding a small crack in the
armor she presented to the world.
"We shall see tomorrow. And I do hope they have some fuel and hydrogen,
because we're running low ourselves."
Port Villa, capital of the New Hebrides, was a tidy tropical village on the
island of Efate. A neat row of shops lined the single street that ran along
the harbor. Above them, trim white bungalows peered down from the hills.
At one end of town, the flags of England and France flew over a small air
station. The setting was intensely green, with vegetation that seemed to
grow even as they watched.
Abercrombie shook his head. "I dinnae ken why they call them the New
Hebrides," he said. "They aren't at all like the old ones."
"What are those like?" asked Sarah.
The Scotsman opened his mouth to reply, then hesitated, struck by the
contrast between this verdant paradise and those bleak windswept skerries
off the Scottish coast.
"The South Pacific has many mysteries," Everett observed. "This may be one
"Who owns the place?" asked Iverson.
Everett indicated the flags. "It's an English-French condominium. Each
nation maintains its own separate government, with separate Commissioners,
postal systems, legal codes, police forces, and judiciaries. There's also a
Native Court, with a presiding judge appointed by the King of Spain, of all
people -- no one quite knows why."
"How does this all work?" asked Miss Perkins.
"Better than one might expect," observed the captain, "particularly when the
two governments find themselves competing for prestige or influence. But
there are some unglamorous matters that both sides neglect with equal
fervor. Let us hope the air station is not one of these."
Mooring operations were complicated by the tendency of the English and
French handling parties to work at cross-purposes, but after a little bit of
sweat... and some vigorous multilingual debate... the Flying Cloud
was riding to a tall mast next to the harbor. Everett left his crew at
flight stations while he and Jenkins paid a courtesy call to the
Commissioners. The French Commissioner was away on a visit to one
of the out-islands, but the English Commissioner -- a rather vague fellow
named Blandy -- received them in the neat white Victorian that served as a
"Welcome to the New Hebrides," he announced. "Tea will be here shortly.
It's a local Earl Grey, from a leaf grown here on the island, and we use
copra rather than bergamot, but I think you'll find it acceptable. What
brings you to our settlement? It's not often we see an airship of any size
here. The last was a small patrol vessel that called in July -- a Wolesley
Class, I believe."
Everett and exchanged glances with his aide. If this had been the R-87,
this raised any number of possibilities. "Do you recall her number?" he
"I'm afraid not," said the Commissioner. "We don't keep detailed port
records here -- bit of a jurisdictional dispute between the two
"I can understand," said Everett graciously. "Have any larger ships called
here for fuel or supplies?"
"No. And we do keep records of our production and expenditures. Tedious
business really, but there's more interest in these things than one might
suppose. Some Germans were asking about them back in May."
"Germans?" asked Everett and Jenkins simultaneously.
"Yes," said the Commissioner, not seeming to notice their surprise.
"Representatives of a manufacturer of handling equipment, looking for new
markets, or so they gave me to understand. They arrived aboard a freighter
with a peculiarly forgettable name."
Everett and Jenkins exchanged another set of glances. "Could this have
'een the Inselmädchen, registered out of Kwajalein?" asked
Everett, as casually as he could.
The Commissioner furrowed his brow. "That does sound vaguely familiar.
Are they acquaintances of yours?"
"After a fashion," said Everett, "but it's not a matter of any particular
importance. Have any foreign airships visited here in the past few months?"
"Nothing worthy of note. Though there was that Russian fellow. Some sort
of archeologist, as I recall. Came through here on an old blimp, back in
April, and left for Espiritu Santo a few days later."
There was a brief moment of silence while the two men digested this
"Oh dear," said Jenkins.
"Quite," said Everett. "Thank you for your time, Commissioner. I know you
must be busy with affairs of the Colony so we'll be getting back to our
vessel to see about resupply."
Next week: Cannibals and Missionaries, or Vice Versa...
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