The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 110: A Destination of Questionable Value

Trcilor and Union Jack

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 of distaste.

"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 of them."

"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 Residence.

"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 asked.

"I'm afraid not," said the Commissioner. "We don't keep detailed port records here -- bit of a jurisdictional dispute between the two administrations."

"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 information.

"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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