Episode 275: Fun at Fort Stosenberg
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
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
"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
"Perhaps," said Iverson. "Do you recall a vessel named the Shiratori
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
"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?"
"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
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
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
"They no longer troubles," he observed. "Now we go back airship?"
Next week: This May Be Good Enough...
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