Episode 135: An Unexpected Move...
The mission ferry docked at Ohonua, the only sizable village on Eua. This
proved to be a modest cluster of native huts and European-style bungalows
dominated by a trim white Wesleyan church. There they learned that the
Russians had settled at Kapa Beach, on the western shore near the north end
of the island.
No vehicles were available for hire, so the three companions made their way
on foot, past a succession of small cane plantations. Many of these had
been abandoned in the aftermath of the Influenza, which gave the landscape a
desolate look. MacKiernan wondered why they’d been established in the first
place. Eua did not seem particularly well-suited for agriculture. It was a
coral island with a porous volcanic crust, uplifted by the same tectonic
convulsion that had formed the Tonga Trench to the east. It reminded him,
more than anything else, of Sarah’s island. He hoped it didn’t contain
quite as many secret airship bases.
He glanced at Miss Perkins, wondering what she would have thought of the
adventure that won them the Flying Cloud. He doubted she’d have
approved, and this didn’t seem like a good time for reminiscences. Since
their conversation on the ferry, they’d been avoiding each other, as if
concerned about what those conversations might reveal.
His musings were interrupted by a warning from Abercrombie.
"Listen! That sounds like hoof beats!"
"You’re daft," said MacKiernan. "Who’d have horses in a place like this?"
"I’ll bet ye a shilling it’s a pair of Cossacks."
Moments later, three horsemen rounded the bend ahead. Their clothing --
jackets, tunics, boots, breeches, and shakos -- was distinctively
inappropriate for an island climate, and left no doubt as to their
nationality. The lead rider was a white-haired man of aristocratic
demeanor, who sat his horse well in spite of his advanced years. He
didn’t deign to bear arms, but his companions carried the Moisin-Nagant
dragoon rifles favored by Russian cavalry.
"Pay oop," said Abercrombie.
"You said pair. I count three o’ the fellows."
"But they are Cossacks."
Miss Perkins frowned in annoyance. "If you gentlemen would pay some
attention to the matter at hand."
The horsemen reigned in just in front of the travelers. "Who are you?"
asked the aristocrat. His accent was slight, as if he’d spent considerable
time in England, but his voice held no trace of friendship.
"Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Royal Navy Airship Service," replied
MacKiernan. "We’re looking for the Russian settlement."
The Irishman hesitated. Until now, he’d been so preoccupied by the search
that he’d never bothered to wonder what he’d do if they found their
"We wish to speak with your leader," said Miss Perkins. "We bring important
The Russian looked at Miss Perkins. The secretary held his gaze, as if
daring him to defy her. At last he nodded.
"Very well, Lady. We will take you to see the Dama."
The Russian settlement was even more modest than Ohonua. Three low houses
-- their Slavic architecture looking distinctly out of place on a Pacific
island -- were hidden beneath the palms next to a small stable.
Outside, a few bored-looking islanders poked half-heartedly at a garden.
Their hosts escorted MacKiernan and his companions to the largest of the
three dwellings. They entered to find themselves in a long room that
resembled, more than anything else, the royal audience chamber in
Nuku’alofa. At the far end, a heavyset woman in her mid-twenties studied
them with suspicion. MacKiernan was struck by the contrast between this
woman and Queen Salote. If Her Majesty was the White Queen, he
thought, this would be the Dark Queen.
"Who are these people, Michael?" she asked the aristocrat, speaking in
English for benefit of her guests.
"British airmen, Dama," he replied. "They claim they have something to tell
"I am Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Executive Officer aboard His
Majesty’s Airship R-505, the Flying Cloud," said MacKiernan. "It
appears that your people and ours share an enemy: the Fat Man."
"You know of this?"
"We know what he stole from you, and we know what it can do, for we were
present at Ujelang when he tested it."
"The Czarina Bomba," one of the riflemen muttered in awe.
"What?" asked MacKiernan.
"A tasteless joke," said the woman. "We know of him now, and we are on the
alert for his agents, so he is no longer a threat."
"He isn’t the only one who knows of these ‘Devices’," said MacKiernan.
"Yakov sold information to other people besides the Germans. Another
nationalist group called the British Union learned that you sent a
second one here back in May aboard a vessel called the
The Russians glanced at a safe that stood in the corner. MacKiernan
recognized another product of the workshops at Tula. He wondered what
it contained -- a map to the hiding place of the second Device, perhaps?
"I warned you we shouldn’t have trusted him, Anna," said the aristocrat.
"We needed him to obtain Solovyov’s papers, Michael," chided the woman, "and
we have turned his betrayal to our advantage." She turned to MacKiernan with
a smile he did not like at all. "We thank you for your warning, but as you
will see, it was unnecessary."
A door swung open behind her to reveal two men. MacKiernan recognized
Fuller from Captain Everett’s description. The other was someone he knew
all too well.
"We got here first," said the lieutenant smugly. "And we made them a better
Their captors marched them along the shore around the tip of the island.
MacKiernan had assumed they’d load the safe onto a wagon, but instead they
lashed it to the top of a Rolls Royce armored car left over from the War.
MacKiernan wondered how they’d got the vehicle ashore. It was a strange
procession: the Rolls in front with the leaders aboard, followed by the
prisoners and a party of English seamen who served as guards, with four
uniformed Cossacks -- broiling in the tropical heat -- bringing up the year.
Some of his questions were answered when they reached the next beach. A
strange blocky-looking barge was drawn up on the sand, with its bow lowered
to form a ramp. Fuller emerged from the car, hooked it to a cable, then
strode over to the prisoners as the vehicle was winched aboard.
"You’re impressed?" he remarked. "It’s my own invention, to facilitate
marine assaults. Those fools at the Admiralty lacked the vision to
"I imagine you’ll find a ready market among the White Russians," said
MacKiernan. "How’d you persuade them to ally with you?"
"As you observed, we share common enemies," smirked Fuller, "the Germans,
and the peace-loving socialists who control both our governments. You’ll
learn more when you meet the Leader. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I must
go to oversee operations."
The barge was too small to carry everything in one load, so it took the
Rolls and its passengers first, leaving the prisoners and guards on the
beach. MacKiernan and Abercrombie watched it make its way out to a small
freighter anchored offshore. From here, they could just make out the
"The Skerry Lady?" said Abercrombie in amazement.
MacKiernan shook his head. "I hope Jenkins never finds out."
"You two don’t seem to be taking this seriously!" complained Miss Perkins.
"There’s not much point in that until we have a serious chance to escape,"
MacKiernan replied pragmatically.
"And when might that be?" asked Miss Perkins. She didn't seem at all
appeased by the Irishman’s observation. Their attention was distracted by
a remark from one of the guards.
"Who the devil are they?"
The three companions turned to see a second craft approaching the beach. It
looked like a ship's lifeboat, but it didn't appear to be in any particular
distress. The oarsmen pulled with long even strokes from behind the row of
ventilator covers they’d hung from the rail like shields.
MacKiernan and Abercrombie exchanged incredulous glances.
"Oh dear..." said the Irishman.
"You dinnae think..." said the Scotsman.
"Whatever is she doing here?"
"I’ve had quite enough of this!" announced Miss Perkins. "What are you two
"You might wish to take cover," said MacKiernan politely. "I believe that
things are about to become confusing."
The secretary opened her mouth to protest, but at that moment the air was
split by a cry.
Next week: And An Unexpected Reunion...
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