Episode 120: Rumors From the Tokyo Express
"Pirates?" asked Everett
"That was the planter's accusation," said MacKiernan, "`Englisher
Pirates’ he called us. This seemed rather ingenious of him, since the only
pirates we know of are German. And I must say that the fellow’s inability
to recognize an Irishman and a Persian reflected badly on his powers of
"That’s the second time someone’s accused us of being pirates," mused
Jenkins. "Abercrombie’s attackers said much the same thing, albeit with a
"You think there’s some connection?" asked MacKiernan.
"This seems a reasonable hypothesis," said Everett. "I've grown rather
suspicious of all these coincidences. Did the fellow add any specifics?"
"He accused of us stealing their land and sinking their ships."
"I suppose there’s some justice to the first charge," Everett observed, "but
as for the second, the shoe was most definitely on the other foot during the
The others nodded. The SMS Emden’s brilliant successes as a
commerce raider had excited admiration throughout the world. And Admiral
Spee’s devastating victory at Coronel had only been partly offset by his
later defeat at the hands of a vastly superior force during the Battle of
"Do we know if any ships have gone missing recently?" asked MacKiernan.
"It might not be easy to find out," said Jenkins. "There aren't many
regularly scheduled sailings in this part of the world, so we’d have to
examine insurance records, and that presupposes someone was willing to
insure the vessels in question. This assumption may not be entirely
justified." The signalman gestured at the harbor, where an assortment of
aging merchant craft listed at anchor in varying states of disrepair.
"Point taken," said Everett wryly. "We’ll make inquiries when we reach a
cable station and hope for the best. But that’s a matter for the future.
Now we have a reception to attend."
There were no buildings in Aola large enough to hold an event of any size,
but the Administrator’s staff had risen to the occasion and slung sails
from an old schooner over the cricket pitch to form a surprisingly tidy
pavilion. Inside, furnishings from the Residence, a portrait of the King,
and a small but well-stocked bar combined to create a small patch of
Oceania that would be forever England. Finding a suitable orchestra had
proved more of a challenge. When Iverson and Sarah arrived, an
ill-matched assortment of drummers, ukulele players, bagpipers, and an
enthusiastic hobbyist with a tuba were warming up for what promised to be a
memorable rendition of The Blue Danube.
Sarah clapped her hands in delight. "This will be fun!"
"You’re quite sure?" asked Iverson, who’d been eyeing the musicians with a
certain amount of apprehension. The tuba player gave him what he supposed
was intended to be a reassuring wink.
"Of course!" said the island girl. "Now remember what I taught you and
lead with your left foot. No, no, your other left!"
The waltz was followed by a polka, a Charleston, and a wild new dance from
Argentina that left the lieutenant rather breathless. Somehow he survived
them all. Recognizing that her companion had reached the limits of his
endurance, Sarah steered them toward the bar, where they found themselves
standing next to a somewhat older couple whose clothing proclaimed them as
"May I offer you my congratulations," said the man with a friendly nod.
"I beg your pardon?" said Iverson, unsure of the other’s intent.
"The two of you looked good together." the man explained. "It was
heartwarming to watch. But I fear I’ve neglected my manners. I’m Doctor
Daniel Feldman, originally from Los Angeles, now teaching geology at Tokyo
Imperial University in Sendai, and this is the wife Loretta."
"Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Naval Airship Service," said Iverson, "and this is
our ballast officer, Miss Sarah. What brings you to Guadalcanal?"
"We came on the Tokyo Express," he said, gesturing in the direction of the
civil air station, where the Shiratori Mar gleamed faintly in the
evening light. "Our department mounted an expedition to the Marshall
Islands to investigate reports of an eruption."
"Eruption?" asked Iverson.
"On an island called Ujelang, just like the swimsuits. It seemed an
unlikely place for a volcano, since it's a coral atoll, but the reports were
Iverson exchanged glances with his companion. So someone else had noticed
the explosion. He supposed it was only a matter of time. "What did you
find?" he asked.
"It was all very mysterious," said the geologist. "The island was quite
clearly the site of an extremely large explosion, but there was no sign of a
crater. Professor Nakamuri suggested there might have been a subsea
eruption in the waters nearby, but this seems unlikely, for there was no
evidence of the tsunami one would expect in the aftermath of such an event."
"What's a tsunami?" asked Iverson, unfamiliar with the term.
"That's the Japanese word for a tidal wave."
"What possibilities does this leave?" asked Iverson, wondering if the
investigators had any inkling what had happened.
Doctor Feldman thought this over. "Not too many. I wondered if a large
meteor might have exploded in the atmosphere. Something similar seems to
have happened in Siberia back in 1906. One of my Japanese colleagues
suggested the explosion was caused by a spacecraft from another world, like
something out of H. G. Wells -- I never could tell whether he was serious.
The natives blamed it all on the Old Ones, of course. It’s a pity my
friend Professor Otkupshchikov wasn’t around. He would have been
fascinated. Those legends are one of his specialties."
Iverson and Sarah exchanged another set of glances. This didn’t seem a good
time to bring up any of the numerous questions the American's information
"I gather you’ve spent a fair bit of time in Japan," said Iverson, seeking
to change the subject to something safer.
"We've been there almost two years now. They seem determined to learn as
much as possible from the West, so they’ve been hiring scientists and
engineers from all over the world to teach them. Loretta loves it. She's
been taking flower arranging lessons with Gusty -- Doctor Herrigel's wife.
I'm still learning my way around."
"What’s Japan like?" asked Sarah.
"It's a remarkable place," said Loretta. "Two generations ago, it was a
feudal society ruled by some hereditary warlord called the ‘Shogun’. Now
it’s a peaceful and progressive modern nation. They have a constitutional
monarchy with two Houses of Parliament, just like you do
-- I try to follow their politics, but I can never remember those names.
They also just passed a universal male suffrage act, which puts them ahead
of some European nations. Now if only they could get around to giving
women the vote..."
"Let's not get started on that, Lori," interrupted her husband.
"Why not?" asked the woman with a glare. "If we can have it in America,
"Didn’t they also fight a war with Russia?" asked Iverson, seeking to head
off a conflict here on Guadalcanal.
"Oh yes," said Dr. Feldman. "Everyone expected them to lose, but somehow
they came out ahead. I remember reading how Teddy Roosevelt mediated the
peace negotiations. They also grabbed some territory in China before the
Boxer Rebellion, but you can hardly blame them. They suffered under
unequal treaties with the West for more than half a century, and this seems
to have left them with an inferiority complex. They seem to be getting over
it now. Indeed, they just reduced the size of their army. But I wonder..."
"Yes?" prompted Sarah, familiar with the vagueness of some academics.
The American shook his head. "They won several easy successes over Germany
during the War, and I'm sure that having to give all those conquered
territories back after the Peace was a source of aggravation. If their
military ever decides to get involved in politics, this could lead to
Next week: A Long-Overdue Confrontation...
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