Episode 192: All Ashore That's Going Ashore
The shore parties had returned to the Flying Cloud to report their
findings. Outside the ship, a bright tropical sun shone down on the
grounds of the Station Aeronautical de Faaa. Inside, the mood
was a mixture of professionalism and perplexity.
"So the French haven't taken any action against these 'sky pirates'?"
asked MacKiernan, after Jenkins had summarized their meeting with
"Apparently not," said Everett. "His Excellency attributed this to
bureaucratic rivalry, but one gets the impression these people are rather
fond of their aerial buccaneers. Pierre, what did you and Rashid learn
"There was no word of our noblemen or pirates," said the Frenchman, "but we
encountered several missionaries who remembered Professor Otkupshchikov
from previous visits. According to them, the Professor has been
investigating several abandoned marae near Mahina and Taravao."
"That sounds promising," said Everett. "Let's see where these places are."
The Royal Navy Airships Service's aeronautical charts didn't always provide
local names for minor settlements, but Jenkins had been able to obtain
the Tahitian equivalent of an ordnance map in Papeete. This showed that
Mahina lay to the north, near Point Venus, where Captain Cook had conducted
his observations of the transit back in 1769. Taravao was some distance
east of it, on the northern side of the eponymous isthmus that connected the
main land mass, Tahiti Nua, with the smaller Tahiti Iti to the southeast.
"They should be easy enough to reach by foot," Everett observed.
"According to this chart, there's a track that runs along the coast.
Iverson, did you and Sarah learn anything useful on the waterfront?"
"Perhaps," said Iverson. "None of our parties seem to have called here at
Papeete, but we heard rumors that some gentleman engaged a pilot to take
him through the passage in the reef at Papao. Unfortunately, these
rumors didn't identity this gentleman or provide any specifics
regarding his vessel."
Inspection showed that Papao lay to the south, where the coastline of
Tahiti gave a bend to the east. Everett studied the chart for a long
moment. His expression was even more unreadable than usual.
"Sir?" asked Jenkins in a troubled voice.
"I suppose we must see this through," said the captain, as if speaking to
"Here's how we'll proceed," he announced to his men.
"Mister MacKiernan, you will take the ship aloft and
make a circuit of the island to search for any of the vessels we've
identified. If you encounter the pirates, shadow them, but don't allow
yourself to be drawn into a wild goose chase. Pierre, you and Abercrombie
will make your way along the coast road to Mahina and Taravao and try to
find the Professor. Meanwhile Jenkins and I will investigate Papao."
Lord Warfield's men had warped the Make a Good Fist up to the pier.
Now the baron, the baroness, and Bludge stood by the gangplank, with Digby
between them. The youth wasn't bound -- this might have attracted unwanted
attention -- but Bludge looked quite ready to thwart any escape attempt.
"You informed us that this Vincenzo will call at Taravao,"
Lord Warfield told the youth.
"We will proceed there, locate this fellow, and determine if he
has the Nui Mana. If he does, you will negotiate its purchase as
the price of your freedom."
"What's so important about this `newy whatever'?" Digby asked sullenly.
The baroness had been touching up her nails. She studied the file, as if
evaluating its potential as a weapon, and smiled.
"It's said to control luck," she said. "Ordinarily, one would discard
such a claim as mere superstition, but according to Professor
Otkupshchikov's notes, there is some evidence that it can influence
probability. Such a thing could come in quite handy at the gaming
"We'll be off now," the baron told his lady. "I trust you won't grow bored
in our absence."
"I'll find some way to occupy the time," she replied sweetly. "That pilot
we hired might have spread rumors of our presence here. It would be a
shame not to take advantage of this opportunity."
Mahina proved more substantial than Lieutenant Murdock had anticipated.
The original village on the shore of Matavai Bay had long since been
replaced by a string of resorts and shops that purported to sell
authentic island crafts to tourists drawn by the island's reputation. It
even had a mooring mast, raised by some entrepreneur with more optimism
than sense -- there was no reason for ships to call here when the station
at Faaa was closer to the capital and had much better facilities.
The Professor had engaged a lighter to ferry them ashore and sent the
Tranquility on to Papeete. Now they stood on the beach -- an
unappealing expanse of gritty black sand, like the refuse from a cement
factory. It was quite unlike Lieutenant Murdock's vision of a tropical
island and Miss Stewart seemed equally disillusioned.
"I'm not going another step," she announced. "You men can gallivant around
the island if you wish, but Miss Isobel and I will stay here."
"But Chase," Isobel said petulantly, "I want to find Uncle! Do say I can!"
Murdock expected Miss Stewart to refuse, but their journey aboard the
Delfin seemed to have eroded some of the governess's authority.
She gave the girl a reluctant nod, glared at the lieutenant, then turned on
her heel and strode off toward town.
"She seems upset," said Murdock. "Is it something I did?"
Professor Otkupshchikov looked at him, opened his mouth as if to make an
observation, then shook his head.
"One suspects otherwise," he said cryptically. For some reason, Isobel
seemed to find this amusing.
"Do you think she'll be all right in our absence?"
"I wouldn't worry," said the Professor. "She can hardly get into any
trouble in Mahina. Now let's look for Lord Milbridge. If we don't find
him here, we'd made arrangements to meet in Taravao."
The Windsong X, latest in a series of vessels by that name, lay at
anchor off Tautira -- a small village on northern coast of Tahiti Iti.
Inshore, a small motor launch chugged toward the beach. Lord Milbridge sat
by the rail, trolling a fishing line. His wife sat beside him, inspecting
the contents of her handbag. Satisfied, she turned to study the coastline.
"You were right, Edmund," she said. "This is so much nicer than Mahina.
That place is dreadfully overdeveloped. I trust we'll still be able to find
"We should, Atalanta, if events go as planned," the viscount replied, giving
no particular stress to the last word. "He's supposed to meet us at Taravao.
We'll proceed there with Spencer and Jean, evaluate the situation, and decide
on our next steps after we arrive."
In the control car of the Salgari, Vincenzo set down his pencil,
examined the chart, and smiled.
"E bene," he announced to his lieutenant. "We'll reach Tahiti at
dawn tomorrow. After we arrive, we'll send down a party to evaluate the
situation and decide upon our next steps."
"What about the authorities?" asked Marat.
Vincenzo smiled. "You are new to our enterprise," he told Marat. "We have
ways of avoiding their notice."
"What if we can't find our two enfants perdus?"
"Ah, Marat, you worry too much. In my experience, these things always
Next week: You Can't Escape The Inevitable...
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