The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 121: A Long-Overdue Confrontation

Hohei statuette with wrench and sword

They’d departed Aola the evening after the reception. Now the Flying Cloud was headed west at reduced power with a quartering tailwind helping her on her way. In the control car, Captain Everett studied the watch assignments, glanced at the clock, and nodded. So far, everything was going according to schedule.

"I have decided on our next move," he announced to his command crew. "We’ve found any number of clues that point to this mysterious gentleman who seems to have a base in Darwin. I believe it’s time we smoked the fellow out."

"How will we accomplish this?" asked Iverson. "Surely he’ll go to ground the moment he sees us arrive."

"Then we’ll take care that he doesn’t," said the captain. "How long would it take us to reach Darwin at our published cruising speed?"

"Approximately forty eight hours," said Iverson, who’d learned to anticipate questions of this sort.

"And how long would it take at full power?"

"Thirty two."

Everett nodded. "That should serve. We’ll work the ship up to her maximum speed, make a dash for Darwin, and arrive sometime before dawn on the 16th. Once we’re there, we’ll send a party ashore..."

"Permission to speak," said Miss Perkins, who’d arrived unnoticed, and was watching the proceedings with an expression of disapproval.

"Yes?" said Everett lightly.

"What’s this business about `maximum speed’?"

The captain shrugged, as if it was a matter of little import. "This vessel is somewhat faster than an ordinary Junior Vickers."

Miss Perkins’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. "How much faster?"

"Ten knots."

The secretary sucked in her breath. "Ten knots! And you didn’t see fit to mention this in your report to Captain Michaelson?"

"I saw no need to burden the good captain with this knowledge."

While Miss Perkins struggled to find words to express her indignation, Everett turned back to his men. "As I was saying before this interruption, we’ll send a party ashore in the longboat. Then we’ll double back and make a very public arrival at Port Moresby, where we’ll make equally public use of the cable station to inquire about insurance records and missing ships. That should throw the fellow off the scent."

"Who do you have in mind for the shore party?" asked Iverson.

"I've given this matter some thought," said the captain. "The longboat can carry three. Since Jenkins and I are the only ones with contacts in town, I believe we’ll both have to go. We’ll bring along Davies to make up the third."

"I should think you’d want Fleming," said Iverson. "He has better knowledge of the land."

"Perhaps," said Everett somberly, "but Davies has more skill at arms, and I fear this could become a concern. Now I need to consult with Abercrombie. Mister Iverson, you have the conn. Miss Perkins, good day."

Everett found Abercrombie in the keel passage, studying one of the frame junctions. The Scotsman looked up as the captain approached. "I don’t suppose there’s any doubt?" asked Everett.

"No, sir," said the rigger. He indicated the pattern of rivets. "Her fastenings are just like the ones on Shiratori Maru. And nothing like this ever came out of a Western yard. I'd wager anythin' ye'd care tae name she was built in Japan."

The captain nodded. "Do you have any idea where?"

The Scotsman shook his head. "Zeppelin Gesellschaft and Goodyear made the tooling for the yards at Nagasaki and Tokyo. I think I’d recognize their work. This looks different -- almost handmade. It’s a great mystery. But I ken we've both guessed who might hae the answer. D’ye mean tae speak wi’ the fellow?"

Everett nodded. "I've been waiting, hoping he might volunteer the information himself, but I don’t believe we can wait any longer."

Even engineers needed the occasional break from their labors. Everett had counted on this, and timed his visit for a moment when Iwamoto was off watch. The engineer’s quarters, like the man himself, was unobtrusive -- a small cabin just aft of the auxiliary fuel tanks. The door opened at Everett’s knock.

"Captain-sama?" asked Iwamoto. "Is some trouble?"

"I don’t believe so," said Everett, "but the time has come for us to talk. May I come in?"

"Hai. Please excuse mess."

No mess was apparent. Indeed, the cabin looked almost unused -- its only human touch a small jade statue and what appeared to be a short sword with an odd-looking guard in a dark wooden scabbard. Everett imagined it was some sort of heirloom.

"I've been speaking with Chief Rigger Abercrombie," he said. "I trust his judgment, and it is his opinion that this vessel was built in Japan. Can you shed any light on this matter?"

"No light," said Iwamoto, "I come with engines."

"And we’re glad you did," said Everett. "Your service has been exemplary. But I believe you have information you haven’t told us."

"No information to tell."

"Does this mean you that don’t have any information, or that you’re unwilling to tell it?"

Iwamoto’s expression gave nothing away, but Everett sensed a trace of uncertainty. "Must explain," he said haltingly. "In your country, you have... what is word... knights? They swear oath, cannot break. My country same thing."

Everett nodded. This was more or less what he’d expected. "So you have secrets you’ve sworn not to reveal," he said. "I respect your obligation, but you must realize that this isn’t sufficient. What can you tell us?"

The engineer thought this over. The uncertainty Everett had sensed seemed to grow stronger. "Difficult say," he replied. "But I not enemy."

"How can we be sure of this?"

Uncertainty hardened into resolve. "I swear oath."

"Very well," said Everett. "I will accept this."

"Domo," said Iwamoto. "We speak other things now?"

Everett began to reply, then paused. What did Iwamoto mean by this? It was quite unlike the man to volunteer conversation. "Yes," he said in a friendly tone of voice, "let’s talk of other things. It seems that we both saw service during the War. Were you in the Fleet?"

"No," said the engineer. "I Army, stationed Liaotung. Fight at Tsing Tao, then sent Korea." He seemed to place a faint emphasis on the last word.

Korea? thought Everett, reviewing what he knew of the place. This wasn’t much. The country's refusal to allow visitors and uncompromising treatment of those few Westerners unfortunateenough to be shipwrecked on its shores had earned it the name ‘The Hermit Kingdom’. The Japanese had taken it as a protectorate after their war with Russia, and annexed it formally a few years later. They claimed to have its inhabitants’ interests at heart, but as a citizen of another colonial power, Everett had learned to be suspicious of such claims. Hadn’t there been some rumors of unrest in 1919?

"What’s Korea like?" he asked casually.

"Strange hats. Clever writing. Dangerous cabbage. No industry, so our zaibatsu -- what you call big companies -- build factories there."

Oh really? thought Everett. Was there more to this statement than met the eye? "That’s a generous policy," he replied carefully. "It reflects well on your government’s peaceful intentions."

"Hai," said the engineer. "Kensaikai Party, Prime Minister Takaaki, very peace. Minseito Party, Mitsubishi zaibatsu, Imperial Navy, also peace. Seiyukai Party, Mitsui zaibatsu, Imperial Army, maybe less peace. Many plottings. Some have secrets."

The two men's eyes met. The engineer kept his face expressionless -- so unreadable that it was readable. Everett replied with an almost imperceptible nod.

"Thank you," he said politely. "I've enjoyed our discussion. I appreciate your discretion and assure you that, even in the unlikely event you did happen to let slip some small and unimportant tidbit of information, I would keep it in strictest confidence."

The engineer offered him a deep bow. "Domo."

"Did you learn anything?" Abercrombie asked Everett as the captain made his way back to the control car.

"I couldn't say," Everett replied, quite honestly, "but our conversation was most definitely food for thought."

Next week: Darwin Oh-Five-Oh-Oh...

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