Episode 111: Cannibals and Missionaries, or Vice Versa
Afternoons in the New Hebrides were peaceful to the point of monotony.
Captain Everett and Jenkins had Port Villa’s single street almost entirely to
themselves as they made their way back to the Flying Cloud. A few
customers chatted idly with a shopkeeper, but otherwise the inhabitants of
the town seemed content to sit in the shade and gaze at the harbor, or the
airship that rode at the mooring mast to the west. In this sleepy tropical
setting, she seemed like a visitor from another world.
"I hope the staff at the hydrogen plant are more industrious," said Jenkins.
"I wouldn’t get my hopes up," Everett replied. "This particular station is
not noted for its efficiency. I suppose this place might assume some
significance in the unlikely event of some large-scale conflict in the
Pacific, but otherwise it’s something of a backwater. Anyone with the
slightest shred of ambition contrives to get transferred elsewhere, leaving
us with gentlemen such as our recent host." He nodded back towards the
"It’s a pity the fellow was so vague," said Jenkins.
"True," said Everett. "But some of his information was food for thought.
It appears that many of our players have been here before us. I wonder what
they were after."
"This Russian who visited in April: do you think he’s the same fellow
Iverson met on Narau?"
"I imagine so. There can’t be too many expatriate professors of archeology
roaming about the South Pacific in War surplus blimps. And one cannot help
but wonder about these apparent coincidences..."
"What should we do now, sir?"
Everett permitted himself a brief frown. "Everyone seems to know what’s
going on but us. This could become annoying. We need to
gather enough information to remedy this situation. This will require
some thought. Much will depend on the supply situation."
"We’re down to 9,000 lbs of fuel and 70% hydrogen," Sarah announced. "The
former shouldn't be a problem, since the port has ample stocks of Number 2
fuel oil, but their hydrogen plant can only produce 50,000 cubic feet per
"Does it meet German standards for purity?" asked Everett.
"Yes," said the island girl. "I have a copy of the test results here."
"That’s something at least," said the captain, leafing through the report
and doing some quick calculations in his head. "It appears we’ll be here
for at least two weeks. We should put this time to good use."
"What do you have in mind?" asked Miss Perkins, who’d been standing at one
end of the control car, watching the proceedings like a reproving parent.
"We have two leads," observed Everett, "those war clubs you brought back
from Sarah’s Island and the information we obtained from the Commissioner.
We’ll send Iverson and Sarah into town posing as collectors to see what
they can learn about the clubs. Meanwhile, we’ll have Pierre make
inquiries around the harbor about the German seamen and English packet
that preceded us. Mister MacKiernan, do you believe our launch could make
it to Espirtu Santo?"
"It's about a hundred mile passage," said the Irishman. "I'd estimate it
would take approximately ten hours at cruising speed."
"That should serve," said Everett. "Have Iwamoto prepare the craft for a
morning departure tomorrow. According the Almanac, some logging concerns
maintain a small air station at Luganville. I want you to pay the place a
visit and see if they know anything about this Russian. Take two men along
in case you run into trouble."
"I will accompany them," Miss Perkins announced.
Everett and MacKiernan exchanged glances. The captain shrugged. "As you
No one in town could say where the war clubs came from, but several people
mentioned a visiting couple from America -- a missionary and his wife -- who
might. The two were somewhere in the interior, hoping to spread The Word,
so Iverson and Sarah found themselves trekking into hills to find them. It
was another sultry day in the jungle. Moisture dripped from the trees and
squelched underfoot. Iverson’s Number Threes were soon clammy with sweat.
Sarah seemed more comfortable in a light summer dress with practical sandals,
a matching necklace, and a pair of elegant stone earrings that
complemented her spear.
"It’s good to be rid of that secretary!" said the island girl. "And I
wouldn’t be at all upset if she got seasick on the crossing."
"What do you have against her?" asked Iverson cautiously, aware that he was
flirting with danger.
His companions scowled.
"I don’t like her superior attitude. And I can tell she doesn’t approve of
me. You can see it in the way she acts."
"I don’t think Miss Perkins approves of anyone on the ship," Iverson
Sarah opened her mouth to reply, then laughed. "You’re right, John. I
"Something in her past, I suppose," said the lieutenant. "But the woman’s
so secretive I doubt we’ll ever... What the devil was that?"
From somewhere up ahead, they heard a sharp whack, like a club striking
flesh, followed by a groan.
"It sounds like a fight," said Sarah.
"Listen! There it is again!"
Another whack echoed through the trees, followed by a cry of triumph.
"Do you think this has anything to do with those two missionaries?" asked
"They are reputed to have come this way," said Iverson. "Perhaps they’ve
incited an uprising by violating some tribal taboo."
The clamor ahead intensified: a grunt, a succession of whacks, and the
sound of trampling feet. Voices bellowed in savage joy.
"This does not sound promising," said Iverson. "I wonder if it would be
wise to continue."
"Aren’t you curious?" asked Sarah. "Let’s see what’s happening." Without
waiting for a reply, the girl hefted her spear and dashed up the trail.
Iverson hurried after her, fumbling with his service revolver.
A brief jog brought them to a settlement, where a mob of islanders crowded
around what appeared to be the village square. At one end of this space, a
young missionary stood gasping for breath. His clothing was disheveled, his
hair was in disarray, and his face was flushed with exhaustion. At the
other end, a native warrior stood proud and tall. Sunlight gleamed from his
muscular limbs, his shark’s tooth necklace, the tennis racket he held
in one hand. As Iverson and Sarah watched, he tossed a ball into the air,
raised his racket, and brought it down in a vicious serve. There was a
whack, a grunt, and the sound of a body hitting the ground as the missionary
dove for the return, made it, and rolled back to his feet.
"Eyah Tualua!" cried the islander, replying with a quick shot cross-court to
win the point.
"Game," announced the judge -- a tribal elder dressed as a shaman. The
islanders cheered and surged forward to congratulate their champion while
the missionary's shoulders sagged in defeat.
"I guess I don’t get to preach today?" he said
"No," said the shaman. "Today is our turn to preach to you. Have you
considered the possibility that the possibility that mankind was created by
Elder Gods who filtered down from beyond the stars, created humanity as a
sport or a joke, and will return again when the stars are right?"
"That’s an 828, ‘Origins of Mortality’, or perhaps a 471, ‘Bridge To Another
World’ on the Aarne Classification Scale," came a voice from beside them.
They turned to see a young woman sitting beneath a tree taking notes.
"You wouldn’t by chance happen to be Mrs Cressman?" asked Iverson,
remembering the names they’d been given back in town.
"Yes," said the woman, "but you can call me Maggie. That’s my husband over
there with the shaman. They made a deal: whichever side wins the day’s game
of tennis gets a chance to convert the other. It seemed like a good idea at
the time, since Luther was on varsity at Columbia, but so far the score is
two for the Lord and five for the Elder Gods." She sighed. "I told him we
should have gone to Samoa instead. What brings you to our would-be mission?
Are you glassmakers too?"
"Glassmakers?" asked Iverson.
Next week: Welcome to the Club...
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