The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 264: A Place For Evolution

Coelecanth fishing

They'd motored into the channel, felt their way across the bar, and followed the estuary upstream. Now the Clydesdale lay moored to the bank as Aunt Behema led the party into the brush. Her brightly knit shawl, floral print dress, and matching hat might not have seemed entirely appropriate for such an enterprise, but the undergrowth knew better than to get in her way. Mister Cartwell seemed quite at home in these surroundings -- apparently he'd had some experience in the wilderness back in America -- while Emily and Clarice had spent their childhood on this coast.

At length they came to a pile of ancient stonework -- quite obviously pre-European, judging from vegetation that had grown up around it. The masonry was of indifferent quality, and much reduced by the ravages of time. Mister Cartwell glanced at one spot where a sizable tree had pushed its way up through the ruin.

"This place must be quite old," he observed. "Does anyone know who built it?"

Aunt Behema tapped the stones with one booted foot. "The aborigines claimed it was raised by worshippers of the Elder Gods, whoever they might have been," she said dismissively. It seemed she made little distinction between Neolithic pagans and anyone else who wasn't a member of the Church Of England

"Is this where you used to find squidbats?" asked Emily.

"They lived near water," the matron reminisced, "and for some reason they seemed to gather near the old ruins, but I don't see any here today."

"Where should we look next?" asked Clarice.

Aunt Behema produced her own species' equivalent of a smile. "We'll try another river. We have plenty to choose from."

That evening they anchored off one of the nameless islets that lined this stretch of coast. The Clydesdale might have begun life as fishing boat, but Aunt Behema had refitted the cabin with suitably garish accommodations. Now they reclined on over-upholstered settees while the matron poured a billy of tea.

By now they'd seen more examples of crumbling stonework, any number of fruit bats, leaf-nosed bats, free-tailed bats, and wattled bats, and several of the chunky lobe-finned fishes Emily and Clarice remembered from childhood, but squidbats (common or otherwise) remained conspicuous by their absence. Mister Cartwell seemed philosophical about the experience.

"A squidbat in the hand is worth two in the bush," he observed.

"Too right," grumbled Clarice. "And that was a fair bit of brush."

The American smiled. "Yes, but it was good healthy exercise. That's what keeps us fit! Mrs. Behema, are there any other spots we should check?"

The matron thought this over. "Not that I reckon," she replied. "And we can't stay out too long. I must get back to Darwin to feed my toads."

Mister Cartwell took this announcement in stride. "Then I suppose I'll head back to my ship and try the next place on my list."

When they returned to Darwin, a thuggish figure in a constable's uniform was waiting on the pier. He watched the party disembark in much the same way that a hungry dog might watch a piece of meat, then moved to block their path.. "G'day," he announced. "I take it you're Mister Cartwell. Our chief of police, George Channel, would like to see you."

"Did he say what for?" asked Mister Cartwell.

The man's smile was not particularly convincing. "No, you'll have to ask him yourself."

Mister Cartwell shrugged. "I suppose I'd better," he quipped. "Perhaps my ship is illegally parked."

Aunt Behema frowned. "Perhaps," she said dubiosuly, "but I'll join you later in case that drongo tries to hassle you."

Darwin's police station was a grim fortress from the days when English settlers were imposing their will on the aboriginal population. The place did not seem to have lightened over years. The guard glowered at the visitors as if cataloging unimaginable crimes, then swung open a door that would not have looked out of place in a dungeon. Mister Cartwell didn't seem intimidated by these surroundings. He strode down the hall with the casual nonchalance of a tourist. Clarice almost expected to hear him whistle.

They found Channel lurking behind his desk like a troll. "Good day, Mister... Cartwell," he said, as if the American's name represented some admission of guilt. "I hope you've been enjoying Darwin. What brings you to our town?"

Mister Cartwell met the man's gaze. "I don't see how that's any of your business," he said politely.

"I am responsible for the security of this community," the police chief announced. "Our society is at war: the War Against Anarchism. It is my duty to keep watch for infiltrators and seditionists."

Mister Cartwell seemed unimpressed. "I'm sure the citizens are grateful for your diligence."

Channel did not seem pleased by this reaction. "I don't think you appreciate the serious of your situation," he growled. "Darwin has had serious trouble with labor unions in the past. We don't want agitators from America stirring up trouble again."

"As an industrialist, I can understand your position," Mister Cartwell assured him.

"Do you?" said Channel. "I've been studying a report about your company. According to this, you've reduced shifts at your factories to a mere nine hours, and you pay your workers an astonishing five dollars a day. You've also supported..." the Police Chief's voice dropped an octave, " and safety regulations."

"That's a matter of common decency," observed the industrialist. "If Mister Coolidge's administration won't take the lead on such things, it's up to private individuals. And you have to pay your workers a decent wage if you expect them to buy your products."

Channel frowned. "These are dangerous ideas, Mister Cartwell," he said ominously. "I must ask you to..."

Whatever Channel was about to say was drowned out by a crash as the door slammed open and Aunt Behema stormed into the room. She strode up to the policeman's desk, placed her hands on her hips, and favored the man with a glare. "George Bruce Channel!" she demanded. "What are you up to!"

The police chief flinched visibly. It seemed that trolls ranked lower on the food chain than matrons. "I'm just..." he began.

"Interfering with a toff who's rich enough to own his own airship. His friends must have big bickies. Are you trying to ruin our tourist industry?"

"Um... err...not exactly... but..."

"That will be enough out of you. We'll be going now. Ta ta!"

No one attempted to contest their departure. Emily and Clarice tagged along after their aunt, trying to guess her mood, while Mister Cartwell strolled along behind them.

"Thank you for your barging in when you did," said the American after they were outside. "That man sounded like he was angling for a fairly hefty bribe. Can I invite you to dinner aboard the Philadelphian? It's the least I can do to show my gratitude."

"Bonzer!" said the matron. "I'll take these two young ladies home and..." she paused and glanced at the sky to the east. "What's that?" she asked. "It looks like another airship."

Clarice followed her aunt's gaze, recognized the vessel's lines, and clapped her hands in delight. "Bewdy!" she cried. "It's the Flying Cloud!"

Next week: It's a Popular Tourist Destination...

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