Episode 241: An Official Presence
Clark's crew brought the Cottswold down to the mooring at Buli with
their usual competence. The station's facilities might have been primitive
and its handling parties poorly trained, but they were not about to let such
things interfere with the smooth operation of one of His Majesty's Airships.
MacKiernan watched the evolution with a certain amount of professional envy,
then turned his attention to the town below.
It was not at all obvious why someone had thought to establish a port here.
The roadstead was poor, exposed to the southeast trades, the prospects for
trade seemed limited, and the surrounding land looked notably unfertile. A
few decrepit warehouses attested to the presence of some struggling mining
venture, but there were no other signs of industry. Perhaps the other
harbors are worse, MacKiernan thought, though I can't imagine
While he was pondering this, the bow station called to announced that the
mooring was secure. "Well done, gentleman," said the Commodore. "Mister
Bainbridge, ring Finished With Engines. We will keep the crew at regular
watches while I go ashore to locate the Crown's representative for this...
settlement. Mister MacKiernan, Miss Perkins, if you would come with me."
The Crown's representative in Buli was a sergeant from the 17th Battalion,
Royal Fusiliers, who'd retired to the Pacific after the War. The islands
seemed to agree with him. His hair was bleached by the sun and his tan
hid most of the scars from some action on the Western Front -- at Mons,
perhaps. So far he'd resisted the temptation to go native, but the same
could not be said for his shirt. This was as unlike an infantry jersey as
it was possible to imagine. MacKiernan studied the garment in alarm, then
glanced at Clark, but the Commodore seemed unfazed by the spectacle.
"Good morning," he said politely. "I am Commodore Clark, Royal Naval
Airship Service, and these are Lieutenant Commander MacKiernan and Miss
"I'm Warren Sheldon, owner and operator of Buli Distilled Spirits and
Ferrous Minerals," said their host. "I watched your arrival. That was
some fine ship-handling. How may I help you?"
"We would like to learn what we can about the European presence on this
Sheldon thought this over. "There isn't much to speak of," he replied.
"Most is due to the missions. The Dutch Reformed Church maintains
establishments in most of the larger villages, the Germans have
missions in Dorosago and Kao, and the Americans have begun some form of
evangelical activity in Galela, though I'm not sure of its exact nature.
There are also some small commercial operations."
Clark gestured at the surrounding jungle, which seemed to offer few
prospects for commerce. "Just what does this island produce?" he asked
"Not much," their host admitted. "There are some mining interests -- that's
why the Crown gave me this commission -- but for the most part, these have
not been particularly successful. The only exceptions may be the Gossowong
Gold Mine near Kao and the new nickel mine in the hills west of Weda."
"What extraordinary names," marveled Clark. "Is there much airship traffic
"There are a few small blimps that fly between the villages," said Sheldon,
"but besides this one, the only air stations substantial enough to handle
large rigids are at Jailolo, Galela, Tobelo, Kao, Patani, and Weda."
"Do you maintain contacts in these places?"
"That's hardly necessary," said Sheldon. "The arrival of a ship from the
outside world is big news in a place like this. I imagine word of your
presence is already spreading over the island."
The Commodore nodded in satisfaction. "Thank you, Mister Sheldon, you've
been very helpful. We will be returning to our vessel. Please send word
if you hear of any other ships in the area."
Shortly after they were back aboard the Cottswold. Adley appeared
on the bridge to report that a runner had arrived with a message. "Sir," he
told the Commodore, "Sheldon has received a shortwave transmission from the
Lutheran Mission at Dorosago. It appears that a large airship
called there yesterday and departed early today. They didn't identify the
vessel, but according to their report, she was approximately 650' long, with
four propellers on a stern car, two wing cars, and an external control car.
Her crew were German."
"That sounds like an S Class," Clark observed. "These will be our
nationalists. Sound departure stations. We will lift ship immediately."
At full power with the wind abeam, the R-382 reached Dorosago in less than
two hours. Rather than waste time mooring, Clark led a party down aboard the
Transporter. Mid-day winds might have made this operation difficult, but flag
officers in the Royal Naval Airship Service did not recognize the possibility
A small group of men in clerical garb was waiting when they reached the ground.
"Guten tag," said one. "I am Father Klaus, leader of this mission.
What brings you to our little village?"
"I am Commodore Clark, RNAS," said the Commodore. "I understand you had a
visit from another airship recently. We would like to learn more about this
Klaus fidgeted uncomfortably. "We did receive such a visit," he admitted.
"But I cannot say who these people were."
Clark gazed at the priest. "Cannot or don't know?" he asked.
The priest met the Commodore's gaze. "The former," he replied.
"I understand," said Clark, "and I can appreciate your situation. We are
acquainted with these people and we do not share their interests. Would you
happen to know where they're headed?"
Klaus hesitated, then appeared to reach a decision. "They warned us not to
reveal this," he said quietly, "but we gathered their destination is Tobelo."
"Danke schon," said Clark. "This information will not be traced
back to you. Never fear, Clark's on the case!"
Afternoon found the Cottswold heading west, engines thundering at
full power. On most ships, this might have meant ruinous fuel consumption,
but Hill Class ships had fuel and range to spare. As MacKiernan was coming
off watch, he ran into Miss Perkins making her way toward the control car
with a sheath of paperwork. She smiled as if the encounter had been
accidental, then glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one was in
"Fergus," she said quietly. "We need to compare notes. Do you think the
Commodore knows he's chasing a different ship now?"
MacKiernan had been pondering this very same question. "I don't think he
cares, Alice," he replied. "I suspect he's using this chase to hide his
intentions while he searches for Karlov."
The secretary nodded. "That would be my suspicion as well, but who does he
need to hide his intentions from? According to Everett's report from Java,
the Fat Man already knows we're trying to find the man, and I can't believe
the White Russians haven't guessed. The only other plausible candidate
would seem to be Karlov himself."
"You worry about Clark's plans for the fellow?"
"I worry about the plans of his superiors. We still don't know who the
Commodore is working for. If it's some faction in the Admiralty that's
opposed to the Peace, or some ministers with connections to the British
Union..." her voice trailed off.
MacKiernan frowned, disturbed by these prospects. "Then we'll have to
find some way to find out," he decided.
Next week: Domestic Squabbles...
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