The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 119: A Florida Vacation

A blimp over Florida Island

In an effort to mislead their adversaries, Everett sent out teams to make inquiries about the German nationalists. He didn't expect any trouble, for it seemed unlikely anyone would have organized an armed conspiracy in a place as obscure as Guadalcanal, but he ordered his people to travel in pairs, just in case.

So it was that MacKiernan found himself escorting Miss Perkins. Again. The Irishman supposed there must be worse fates, but he couldn't think of any offhand. He studied his companion as they made their way through Aola, wondering how something so beautiful and cold had ever found its way to the tropics.

The town was alive with Japanese tourists. Next to the wharf, an artist was applying finishing touches to a painting of the harbor. Nearby, a pair of honeymooners posed for a photograph in front of the destroyer. Over by the cricket pitch, a party of youths -- an amateur surveying club, perhaps -- chattered happily as they took bearings on various landmarks. Their enthusiasm contrasted sharply with Miss Perkins's icy reserve. For all the emotion she showed, she might have been a statue, brought to imperfect life by some insufficiently skilled sorcerer.

Uncomfortable with the silence, MacKiernan gestured toward the Flying Cloud and the Shiratori Maru, which rode from their masts like two titanic flags. "There's a sight to warm the heart," he announced. "Is there anything as beautiful as an airship?"

"I hate them," Miss Perkins said quietly.

"What?" asked the Irishman, wondering if he'd heard her correctly.

"I hate them. I was a child in London during the Raids. I remember lying awake on moonless nights, listening to zeppelins fly overhead, waiting for the bombs to fall. I lost my parents in the attack on Liverpool Street Station."

MacKiernan nodded in sympathy. Germany's months-long aerial blitz had brought a new level of frightfulness to modern war, taking dozens of lives, destroying a factory, and once almost starting a major fire. Where this might have led had the conflict continued, no one cared to imagine.

"It's over now," he said consolingly. "The world is at peace."

The secretary nodded curtly. "Good. Let's keep it that way."

Their contact was the town's constable: a portly man with a cheerful expression who looked more like a postman than an officer of the law. "We've been investigating German nationalist activity in this part of the Pacific," said MacKiernan. "Have you had any trouble here in the Solomons?"

"Can't say as we have," said the man, "not on Guadalcanal. But I believe there's been some unrest over on Florida."

"Isn't that rather far away?" asked Miss Perkins.

The constable's face cracked open in a smile. "You must be thinking of that place in America. Our Florida is an island at the other end of Indispensable Strait. The Solomon Air Service runs a flight there every morning."

Miss Perkins looked taken aback -- the first real sign of emotion MacKieran had seen her show since she'd come aboard. "Oh," she said in a small voice. "Right."

Air transportation between Guadalcanal and the rest of the archipelago was provided by one of the ubiquitous Sea Scout blimps England had built in such great numbers during the War. Stripped of bombs and armament, with the control car and envelope enlarged to increase payload, it could carry up to six passengers in what might have passed for comfort among a race of midgets.

MacKiernan found himself crammed next to Miss Perkins on a narrow bench seat for what promised to be an unpleasant flight. At least they had a tailwind on this leg of their journey, he reflected -- he didn't care to imagine the trip back. He'd brought Rashid along, in case of trouble. The Persian seemed content with his accommodations, and relaxed with a book of poetry as they left Aola behind. Miss Perkins gazed at the ocean in stony silence.

"Why is it called Indispensable Strait?" she asked unexpectedly. "It doesn't seem indispensable to me."

Unprepared for this question, it took MacKiernan a moment to reply. "That would have been the vessel that made the original survey under Commander Williamson, back in 1794."

Miss Perkins frowned. "Why do survey ships always have such grandiose names? Endurance, Endeavour, Discovery: isn't this a trifle melodramatic?"

"I never thought about the matter," mused the Irishman. "Still, it could have been worse. Imagine what might have happened if they'd named them after small farm animals. This could have been Piglet Strait."

She startled him by laughing. For a brief instant, her face was transformed, and he caught a glimpse of what things might have been like in a world where she smiled. It left him wondering.

The mood was lighter when the party disembarked at the village of Maravagi. It was an unprepossessing place, with a post office, a copra warehouse, and a ramshackle structure that someone with more optimism than sense seemed to be developing as a resort. Inquires at the first of these established that most of the island's German population had departed for Bougainville during the War-time confiscations, but a few plantations remained on land so worthless no one had troubled to take it.

A brief march brought them to the closest one: a small field of sugar cane at the edge of the jungle. A cluster of native huts stood at one end, flanking the bungalow that served as a manor house. Beside it, a party of laborers was spading a garden under the direction of a tanned man in European dress who appeared to be the owner.

"You might wish to wait here," MacKiernan told Miss Perkins. "There's no telling how this fellow might react to strangers."

"That may be a gallant gesture," she replied primly, "but I do not require your protection. I will accompany you." MacKiernan glanced at the secretary. Was it his imagination or did her voice lack some of its usual ice? He shrugged and gestured for Rashid to keep an eye open for trouble.

The planter looked up as they approached, noted MacKiernan's uniform, and frowned. "Hallo," he said suspiciously, "Wer seid Ihr denn?"

"I'm Lieutenant Commander MacKiernan of the Royal Naval Airship Service," said the Exec. "I wonder if we might ask you a few questions."

"I do not speak to Englisher pirates," the man growled back.

"Pirates?" asked MacKiernan, taken aback by this unexpected accusation.

"Ja! Pirates! First you take our land, then you take our ships! You are not welcome here!"

MacKiernan stared at the man in wonder. "I believe you've mistaken us for someone else," he said politely.

"Nein, I know who I speak to! And you foolishly come with only two companions. Perhaps my men shall give you a lesson." He snapped out a command to his workers, who'd been glaring at their visitors with every sign of hostility. They grinned, hefted their shovels, and began to advance.

Rashid had already fitted a stone to his sling. There was a whistle, a crack, and a coconut exploded above their attackers, showering them with fragments. The laborers lurched to a halt.

"I see you have some batsmen," MacKiernan told the planter. "We brought a bowler. Would you care for a few innings?"

The German scowled back. "You win for now, Englisher. But I will remember your face, I think."

"Is that a real sling, like David used against Goliath?" asked Miss Perkins as they made their way back to the resort.

"Aye," said MacKiernan. "Rashid is a Persian. Some of those fellows are handy with the things."

"So you have one airman skilled with biblical weapons, another with some talent as a ladies' man, and a mysterious engineer from Japan whom no one ever sees. Is there anything else I should know about your crew?"

MacKiernan thought this over. "You might want to steer clear of Loris."

Next week: Rumors From the Tokyo Express...

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