The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 120: Rumors From the Tokyo Express

Passengers disembarking from the Japanese packet

"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 observation."

"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 French accent."

"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 War."

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 the Falklands.

"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 American.

"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 quite definite."

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 had raised. "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, why can't..."

"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 trouble."

Next week: A Long-Overdue Confrontation...

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