The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 173: Please, Sir, Can I Have Samoa?

Pierre and MacKiernan watch Rashid with sling

Tutuila was dwindling behind them -- a dark green gem in the blue waters of the Pacific. Ahead, the peaks of Western Samoa loomed above the horizon. In the control car of the Flying Cloud, Captain Everett nodded in satisfaction. So far, the operation had gone according to plan. They'd landed Iverson's party on Savai'i shortly after dawn, set a course for American Samoa, and reached the USN Air Station near Pago Pago toward mid-morning. After a brief stop to put Murdock and the passengers ashore, check for dispatches, and take on ballast, they'd lifted ship and headed for Upolu. If all went well, they'd arrive before noon.

"We've received word from the station at Apia," said Jenkins. "They acknowledge our request for fuel and hydrogen, and will have a handling crew waiting when we arrive."

"Very good," said Everett. "Offer them our thanks, and inform them that payment will be handled according to the Joint Naval Agreement of 1918."

"Aye, sir."

"Do you think the shore parties will have any difficulties?" asked MacKiernan after the signalman had departed.

"This seems unlikely," Everett replied. "Mister Iverson has demonstrated a fair degree of competence over the past few months, Pierre seems to know his way around the islands, and I doubt any of the locals would risk running afoul of Miss Sarah. As for Mister Murdock, he may lack seasoning, but he's unlikely to run into much trouble on an American possession. Those fellows run a tight ship."

"What about our investigation on Upolu?"

Everett smiled. "I imagine you'll find that out for yourself. I have you, Jenkins, and Rashid in mind for the party."

Mooring operations at Apai proceeded with Teutonic efficiency. The German air station at Apai may not have had mechanical equipment, such as the Americans used on Tutuila, but the Samoans who made up the handling party were well-trained, well-led, and almost as substantial as the airship. They picked up the Flying Cloud's lines and walked the vessel to the mast as easily as a child might walk home with a balloon.

MacKiernan and his companions stepped from the elevator as the islanders 'ere dispersing. "Those are some m� br�ds," he remarked. "I hope there aren't any cannibals in the lot."

"I don't believe we need to be concerned," observed Jenkins. "Most of these people will have converted to Christianity, and our Western tradition prefers sectarian strife to anthropophagy."

MacKiernan began to reply, then paused. He was familiar with the signalman's sense of humor. "Quite," he said at last. "Let's visit the Station office, arrange for resupply, then head into town and see if these fellows have noticed an archaeologist about."

No one in Apia knew of any archeological expeditions on the island, but the townsfolk were able to suggest some promising ruins near the village of Vailele. With no other leads to pursue, the party set out to investigate. The trip along the coast took little time -- the German colonial government was noted for the quality of its roads -- and soon the trio was slogging up a trail into the hills.

MacKiernan had long ago decided that tropical island jungles compared unfavorably with airships. They might be more colorful, and they might contain some interesting wildlife, but the heat was unpleasant, the humidity was stifling, and all too much of that wildlife seemed to be insects.

"An diabhal leis!" he muttered as he swatted another fly. "It was nivir like this in Ireland!"

"It was also different from Zagros mountains," said Rashid. "Those were tall, barren, and proud: places to forge the soul. This is... what is that word... soggy?"

MacKiernan chuckled. "Aye, that's the one. Do you miss your homeland?

"Of course," said the Persian. "We must always miss the land of our birth. But you can never go home again. And the Service has given me a chance to see some remarkable things."

"I believe I see something up ahead," said Jenkins.

The path had leveled off at the edge of a clearing. Some distance ahead, several broad man-made earthen mounds rose from the forest floor. They were crude-looking things -- modest compared with the monumental relics of Egypt and Rome -- but even so, they possessed a certain grandeur. And they contrasted sharply with the simple villages of the coast.

"Who could have built this place, and why?" wondered MacKiernan.

"I understand the islanders were responsible," said Jenkins. "But the purpose of this place has long since been forgotten. Missionaries did much to eradicate native traditions, and time has done the rest."

"Could it have been some form of temple?" asked MacKiernan, imagining dread cannibal sacrifices.

"Perhaps, but it could just as well have been the court for some game."

Their speculations were interrupted by a shout from ahead. Looking up, they saw that a party of Samoans had emerged from the jungle on the far side of the clearing. The islanders did not seem friendly.

"What are you doing here?" their leader asked suspiciously. "Have you come to steal our mana?"

"No," said MacKiernan. "We were looking for an archaeologist, who we understand might have visited this place, but if you object to our presence here, we'll depart."

"You cannot leave," said the islander, "until you have faced Malo Tamaloa!" He gestured, and a massive warrior stepped forward. The man was tall as a mountain, broad as a cliff, with muscles that might have been hewn from granite. As they watched, he unwound a braided cord from about his waist and reached down to pick up a stone.

Rashid's eyes lit up. "What is this?" he cried in delight. Before MacKiernan could intervene, the Persian had produced his own sling and was searching for a suitable projectile

"Oh dear," said Jenkins. "I don't like the looks of this. Do you think we should try to stop them?"

"I rather doubt we can," sighed the Irishman. "There's an imperative to these things that we may be powerless to alter. We might wish to take cover."

By now the islander was twirling his sling in a lazy orbit behind him. With a grunt, he brought his arm forward like a bowler hurling a pitch. There was a whoosh, followed by a crack as the stone shattered against a boulder to Rashid's right. The Persian's return cast missed the islander by inches and the battle was on.

The two combatants dodged through the ruins, picking up stones, pausing to swing and throw whenever they thought they had an advantage. After some preliminary maneuvering, they settled on a range of fifty to sixty yards. For men of their skill, anything less would have been suicidal. Their shots whistled across the clearing, ripping branches from the trees, tearing gouges in the soil, bursting into fragments when they hit rock.

The ricochets posed a considerable hazard to onlookers. MacKiernan and Jenkins found themselves crouching behind a mound of earth next to the leader of the Samoans.

"Your man, he good," said the islander.

"Your fellow's no slouch either," said MacKiernan.

"I think our man win."

MacKiernan peered over the embankment to study the action. The Samoan slinger had somewhat more power, but Rashid seemed more accurate. Even at this range, several of his shots had grazed the other man's clothing. If the islander hadn't been moving at the time, he would surely have been hit.

"No," MacKiernan replied, "I think Rashid will take him."

"You put some money on that?" asked the Samoan.

MacKiernan clapped the man on the back. "Of course! You're a fellow after me own heart!"

Next week: The Importance of Names...

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