The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 275: Fun at Fort Stosenberg

Iwamoto in combat stance, with mop

The air station at Pampanga had begun as part of Fort Stosenberg -- an American army base erected in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. By now it was a sprawling affair, with scores of masts, dozens of airship sheds, and an elaborate system of mechanized handling equipment. Like most American military establishments in the Pacific, it looked gleaming and new, as befit one of the world's newest Powers.

Captain Arnold received them in his office. Like the station, this was unabashedly modern, with fabric, steel, and Parkesine in place of the traditional leather, brass, and polished wood favored by the Admiralty. The commander was somewhat less prepossessing than his surroundings. Balding, bookish, and bespectacled, he looked more like a senior clerk than a man of action. When his visitors arrived, he was studying a report. Its cover showed a photograph of a large modern airship -- at least six million cubic feet enclosed volume, with eight engines arranged in neat rows of four on either side -- flying over the coast of California. Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances.

"That would be the Sunnyvale, ZR-87," Everett remarked.

"Yes," said Captain Arnold. "We were preparing for her visit here, but they've sent her back to Goodyear for modifications."

"I take it some issues arose during her trials," said Everett.

Arnold nodded. "Captain Dunbar wasn't happy with the way the vertical stabilizers were mounted. He didn't feel they were strong enough. They're supported by the frames rather than a conventional cruciform structure."

Everett raised his eyebrows very slightly. "This seems like a novel innovation. I assume it was intended to save weight."

"Of course!" Arnold announced. "Our designers think outside the box! If you want to advance, you have to be transformational instead of evolutionary!"

Everett reserved comment. He'd often wondered at America's strange hostility to evolution. "I imagine this will constitute a significant advance in airship design," he said politely. "Our own errand is somewhat more mundane. We're seeking information about a Japanese packet named the Shiratori Maru. We understand she may have visited your station."

Arnold made a dismissive gesture, as if the doings of the world's other newest Power were none of his concern. "I suppose this is possible. You'd have to check with my staff."

The quartermaster's office looked considerably more lived-in than the commander's. A row of battered filing cabinets stood next to a desk than had seen better decades. In the corner, a small table held a coffeepot, a chipped and stained mug, and a stack of service manuals. The quartermaster was leafing through a magazine when Iverson and Sarah arrived. The picture on its cover was somewhat different from the one on the commander's report.

"How can I help you?" he asked.

"We need to replace two of our ballast regulators," said Iverson. "These are patterned after the Vickers-Ramsey design, but may require some special machining. I have a set of plans here."

The quartermaster flipped through the pages, then leaned back to scratch one of his armpits. "I think we can do ya," he announced. "If Arnie gives the go-ahead, I can have 'em ready the day after tomorrow. Do ya need anything else?"

"Perhaps," said Iverson. "Do you recall a vessel named the Shiratori Maru?"

Their host snorted. "She sounds like part of the Tokyo Express."

"The Tokyo Express?" asked Sarah. "Whatever is that?"

"We been getting a lot of Japanese ships in the Philippines recently. It seems we're a big tourist destination for those guys. They got a resort somewhere in Dilao, but I don't know much about it. Those Japs keep to themselves."

"I've made inquiries regarding this Dilao neighborhood," said Jenkins after they were all back at the ship. "It is situated south of the Pasig river, close to the bay. The name seems to derive from a local word for 'yellow' -- it's not clear whether this is a reference to the area's vegetation or some observation regarding the residents."

"I take it the Japanese have been there for some time," said MacKiernan.

"Since the 17th Century at least," said Jenkins. "It seems the original settlers were fleeing from some form of civic unrest."

"Could you discover anything about this resort the quartermaster mentioned?" asked Everett.

"Unfortunately not," said Jenkins. "As the man observed, these people seem reluctant to speak to Westerners."

Sarah chuckled. "I know a way around that."

The signalman raised an eyebrow. "Do tell."

"They're tourists," said the island girl "They must need someone to trim the gardens, dust the furniture, and do their laundry. I'm sure I can gather information from the islanders."

"That should serve," said Everett. "We may wish to send an officer along to lend his authority to your inquiries. I believe we can spare Mister Murdock for this purpose. It will be a good education for him."

Lieutenant Murdock kept a wary eye on Sarah as they made their way through Dilao. He was still somewhat intimidated by the island girl -- life at the Naval College had not prepared him to deal with members of her particular demographic. At least she hadn't brought her spear. It seemed the American port authorities took a dim view of thrusting weapons as fashion accessories.

Dilao was a district of narrow streets lined with market stalls, strangely unlike the Chinatowns to which it bore a superficial resemblance. The iconography was subtly different, the language sounded more melodic, and the art seemed to involve different subjects. Murdock paused to examine a statue of a man in monk's robes with his hair tied in a curious topknot.

"I wonder who this fellow was," he mused.

"I like that sword he's carrying," Sarah said brightly. "I wonder where I can get one."

Murdock couldn't think of a reply, so he led the way onward. So far their inquiries had not proved particularly successful. The islanders were reluctant to talk to Sarah, for it seemed her tribe had some reputation that extended even here. As they walked, he found his eyes wandering to the shop displays. He noticed a box of Christmas ornaments perched in front of a stall that sold janitorial supplies. Was this some very belated post-season sale, he wondered, or was it intended for people who liked to plan several months ahead?

He was checking the prices when Sarah called out a warning. He turned to see four tough-looking Japanese men fanning out to surround them. Three were armed with knives while their leader held a long-barreled automatic pistol of unfamiliar design.

"You will come with us," the man commanded.

"Whatever for?" demanded Sarah.

"You ask many question. Now this our turn."

The island girl pouted. It was clear she wished she had her spear. Murdock studied the attackers, wondering if he could make a grab for his service revolver. The gunman seemed to read his mind, for he shook his head. Then something flashed through the air and the man's pistol went flying into a puddle. He gave a cry and stared down at the Christmas tree star embedded in his wrist.

"What the devil?" said Murdock.

"Sorry for interrupt," came a voice from behind him. The lieutenant glanced over his shoulder to see Iwamoto standing next to the stall, studying a ceramic angel as if evaluating its potential as a projectile. The engineer shook his head and set the ornament aside.

"Semeru!" yelled the leader.

"Excuse please," said Iwamoto. "I deal with problem." As the thugs charged, he picked up a mop, stepped past Murdock and Sarah and raised the implement to a guard position. Moments later the attackers lay sprawled on the ground.

"They no longer troubles," he observed. "Now we go back airship?"

Next week: This May Be Good Enough...

Comments about Episode 275? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit