The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 192: All Ashore That's Going Ashore

Tahiti, the Island Of Venus

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 Governor Solari.

"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 in town?"

"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 himself. "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 tables."

"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 the Professor."

"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 work out."

Next week: You Can't Escape The Inevitable...

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