The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 358: A Cultural Mission

Dread Cthulhu with kimchi

They'd lifted ship from Broome in the evening and headed east, in the direction of Darwin, taking care to stay in sight of any watchers on the coast. When night fell, they switched off their running lights and changed course for the Dutch East Indies. They had little fear of being discovered. Even if someone spotted the darkened airship as they made their way north, the chance of being recognized was remote.

Morning found the Flying Cloud cruising at 45 knots over the Banda Sea. Everett and MacKiernan had climbed to the upper lookout station to take a sight. This might not have been strictly necessary, surrounded as they were by large, highly visible, and easily-recognizable islands, but it gave them an opportunity to talk without being overheard.

"I spoke with Iwamoto," Everett told his exec. "He can be quite informative, once you learn to interpret the things he doesn't say. He's made it clear that he's opposed to the Japanese nationalists and the Fat Man's people. Unfortunately, he seems to be under some obligation to keep his own allegiances secret."

"Do you have any idea what these might be, sir?" asked MacKiernan.

"No," said Everett. "I also have no idea how he ended up as the engineer aboard this vessel. Circumstances suggest he's been with her since she left the yard. This is perplexing, since we have good reason to believe she was commissioned by his adversaries."

"Could they have some secret enemy of which we're unaware?"

"Such would be my guess," Everett replied, "but tracking down the hidden foes of a secret conspiracy could pose something of a challenge."

"Quite," said MacKiernan. "Could he tell us anything about the prints we found?"

"He believes they were printed in the Dutch East Indies. He couldn't say where, but I have some ideas where to begin our search. He also seemed to take notice when I mentioned Korea."

MacKiernan considered the implications. "I take it you wonder if this has some connection with the Korean writing we discovered on Buton Island. Will you want me to lead a shore party to investigate?"

"This seems like a job for Jenkins," said Everett. "We'll also send Mister Murdock. The experience should be good for his education."

To avoid observation, Everett deployed the launch offshore, then departed for Ambon, in the Maluku chain, to resupply. A short uneventful run brought Jenkins and Murdock to the small village of Bola, on the southern tip of Buton Island. No one paid the two any attention as they tied up to the settlement's rickety wharf. Soon they found evidence they were on the right track -- a faded poster in Hangul, tacked to the wall of a shop, advertising some substance that was either a food, a weapon, or both.

"How shall we proceed?" Murdock asked Jenkins. As the only officer present, he might be nominally in command, but he was under no illusions as to who was leading the expedition.

"We'll speak with the proprietor, pretending to be dealers in curios," said Jenkins. "This should provide us with an excuse to inquire about the writing."

The shopkeeper seemed delighted by the opportunity to gossip. "A Korean educational society puts those up," he told them. "They came here to spread the use of their alphabet, but we already have a perfectly good one, so they decided to teach..." the man paused dramatically and glanced over his shoulder, "...the Abominable Cia Cia."

Jenkins raised an eyebrow. "What's so abominable about these fellows?"

"They're degenerate survivors of a lost civilization," said the shopkeeper, warming to the subject. "They emigrated here from the plains of Leng, where they performed unspeakable sacrifices to the elder gods Lloigor, Zhar, and Whyndos."

"What kind of sacrifices?" Murdock asked nervously.

"They're cannibals!" the shopkeeper announced with glee. "They feast on human brains, which they mash into a paste and serve with marinated vegetables!"

Murdock's eyes had been growing wider. He wasn't particularly fond of vegetables, marinated or otherwise. "You're quite sure about this?"

The shopkeeper thought this over. "No," he decided, "maybe I got that wrong. That's the Abominable Tcho Tcho over in British Indochina. Burma... Buton... it's a mistake anyone could make."

"This intelligence suggests we should search for educational establishments," Jenkins observed as they emerged from the store. "In the interests of efficiency, I believe we should split up. You take the eastern side of town and I'll take the west."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" asked Murdock. This procedure always lead to trouble in radio dramas.

"What could possibly go wrong?" said Jenkins. "We hardly need to fear an attack by schoolteachers."

Murdock wasn't so sure about this. What if the shopkeeper was mistaken in his geography? Indochina and the Dutch East Indies were only a few thousand miles apart. But he kept these reservations to himself.

A short time later, the lieutenant was standing before what was obviously a school. Except for the thatched roof, the verandah, and the fact that it was raised on stilts, it was just like the schools back in England. Somewhere nearby, children were singing what he assumed was a traditional native song

"Let's have kimchi, kimchi safari!
Let's have kimchi, kimchi safari!
Let's make kimchi now
Everybody's learning how
Come and pickle cabbage with me!"

He knocked on the door and entered to find a young woman with Asian features sitting at a table grading papers. She was dressed like a schoolteacher... from some place where schoolteachers wore considerably less clothing than Murdock was accustomed to. She smiled when she noticed him.

"Anyonghaseao!" she said brightly. Murdock hoped this meant `hello' rather than something like `tasty food'.

"Good afternoon," he replied. "I'm a... uh... dealer in curios. Do you mind if I ask a few questions?"

"Not all," she replied, beckoning him to sit on the bench beside her. "What would you like to know?"

The bench proved somewhat narrower than Murdock had expected. He perched awkwardly, trying to avoid any impropriety. "I was wondering who built this school," he said nervously.

The girl leaned closer than seemed necessary. "It's sponsored by the Hunminjeongeum Society," she told him. "We're dedicated to bringing the Hangul alphabet to the unwritten languages of the world."

"I see," stammered Murdock. "Who else is on your faculty?"

She leaned even closer and rested a hand on his chest. "There aren't many of us," she told him. "It gets very lonely. The only one my age was Miss Kim, but she didn't stay long."

Murdock perked up at this news. Was it a clue? How should he pursue it? And why was this woman unbuttoning his jacket? He was trying to decide how best to proceed when he heard Jenkins's voice behind him.

"Ah, Mister Murdock, there you are. I trust I'm not interrupting anything."

The Governor poured a glass of sake and held it up to the light. He might have preferred wine, but hospitality demanded certain sacrifices. "I have received word from Broome," he told his guests. "The Royal Navy sent an airship to investigate the depot. It's not clear who was on this mission, but Captain Michaelson must be behind it."

Across the table, the commander frowned. "Michaelson again? The man is becoming a nuisance. It's time to eliminate him."

The Governor smiled. It was always nice to work with people whose thoughts matched your own. "I will take care of the matter."

Next week: We'll Stop Here For Java...

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