The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 361: Shake Your Tambora

The Flying Cloud over Mount Tambora

The Flying Cloud returned that evening, taking advantage of the 'indow of calm between the daytime seabreeze and the night's downslope winds to recover the shore party. After they were back aboard, Everett stood offshore, using the southern route again to avoid any watchers in Jakarta. Even if some farmer remarked on their passage, it would take some time for word to reach anyone who might be trying to track their movements.

"We have two new leads," he told his officers, "this printer on Sumatra and the visit this..." he took a deep breath, "...Hunminjeongeum Society made to Sumbawa."

"The first one seems somewhat more substantial," observed Jenkins.

"True," said Everett, "but we don't have to investigate it immediately. A print shop is unlikely to move while we're engaged in other business. I believe we should make some inquiries on Sumbawa while memories are still fresh. What do we know about the place?"

"It's part of the Sunda chain, east of Lombok and southwest of Sumba," said MacKiernan. "This places it fairly close to Timor, where we know the Fat Man has been active."

"His agents cannot be watching everywhere," said Everett. "We'll trust that the place is too unimportant to warrant their attention. Does it have an air station?"

"According to the Almanac, it has two: one in Bima to the east and another in Besa to the West. There seems little to chose between them."

"We'll try Bima," Everett decided. "It comes later in the alphabet."

The Sundas were seven hundred miles from Java, but airships laughed at distances, and the Flying Cloud reached Sumbawa in the morning. This was a large volcanic island, split almost in half by a broad body of water, Selah Bay, that cut into it from the north. The east half of the island was dominated by Mount Tambora -- the volcano that had exploded with such terrible force back in 1815. Its lower slopes were covered with jungle, sections of which had been cleared for coffee plantations, but the upper slopes remained bare, their tortured contours testifying to the magnitude of the catastrophe.

"I understand the explosion was even bigger than Krakatoa," MacKiernan remarked.

"It also had some effect on climate," said Jenkins. "The weather during the following years was unduly harsh, and there was widespread famine in some parts of the world."

Everett studied the peak thoughtfully. "So many of these places we visit have been sites of explosions," he mused, "Ujelang, the secret air station, and now this."

"The causes were hardly the same," Jenkins objected.

"True," Everett admitted, "but this remains a common thread. Many of these places also have some association with Karlov. One cannot help but wonder at the coincidence."

Bima Air Station, in Bima City, in Bima Regency, was located in the Sultanate of Bima -- naming conventions in this part of the Pacific tended to follow a predictable pattern. Like many polities in the Dutch East Indies, it was a semi-independent kingdom under Dutch overlordship. The Dutch controlled foreign trade and taxes, leaving internal affairs to the islanders. If the islanders objected to this arrangement, they had learned not to complain.

The city's inhabitants were the usual mixture one would expect at a tropical port. Pale blond Dutchmen rubbed shoulders with dark-tanned Melanesians, Malay sea-captains bargained for cargoes with Spanish plantation-owners, and Chinese merchants haggled with strange narrow-skulled traders from some nameless island tribe. In one corner of town, White Russians had established an exile community, complete with teahouses and samovars. No one seemed to remember the Koreans, but the airmen learned that a team of Scottish scientists was working somewhere on Mount Tambora.

"We'll deploy the motorcycle and pay them a visit," Everett decided. "These university types often seem to know each other. Perhaps they'll have word of our Koreans."

"Who do you have in mind for this expedition?" asked MacKiernan.

"I'll take Abercrombie," said Everett. "He should welcome the chance to meet some of his countrymen."

Roads on Sumbawa were good by island standards -- something in which Sultanate took pride -- but `good' was a relative term, particularly for passengers of a vehicle lacking a suspension system. Two hours of kidney-bruising bumps and jolts brought Everett and Abercrombie to Dompo, where they abandoned the main thoroughfare for an even more rustic track that led up the eastern side of Saleh Bay. As they motored north, they began to pass signs of the previous century's explosion -- a rockfall here, a row of charred tree-stumps there, a strip of bare rock, where the land had been scoured clean by flows of ash. It had clearly been quite the catastrophe.

At last they rounded a bend to see a row of field tents next to what looked, to Everett's unpracticed eye, like an archeological dig. A remarkable flag flew over the site. This featured a yellow hammer and thistle on a red background under the letters `SSSP'.

"Crivens," muttered Abercrombie, "not those Scotsmen."

"You know of this organization?"

"It's the Scottish State Socialist Party -- followers of that Maclean fellow. They're Marxists. Those fellows are even worse than Presbyterians."

Everett was undisturbed by this revelation. "We'll make the best of it," he replied.

Three figures rose from one of the trenches as the motorcycle approached. Their socio-economic theories might not have been immediately evident, but they were quite obviously Scotsmen.

"Good day, gentlemen, " Everett said politely. "I'm Captain Roland P. Everett, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is my chief rigger, Abercrombie."

"I'm Angus and these are my colleagues, Calum, and Duff," said one of the men. "We're archeologists, here to investigate the Tambora Culture."

"I am unfamiliar with this term," Everett admitted.

"They were a tribe of islanders that lived on the flanks of this volcano," said Angus. The Scotsman seemed hesitant, as if he was waiting to see if he'd be believed. "They were wiped out by the explosion, much like the inhabitants of Pompeii. We're studying their remains and to learn about their society. It appears they originally came from Indochina, for they seem to have had some affinities with the Tcho Tcho of the Burmese highlands."

"That's very interesting," said Everett, "but we're here regarding an entirely different matter. I understand that a Korean cultural mission visited this island sometime to spread the use of their alphabet. Did you encounter these people?"

The Scotsmen exchanged a set of glances. Everett sensed a combination of relief and confusion. "Would this be the... um... Hunminjeongeum society?" asked Angus, managing the pronunciation with some difficulty.

"That would be the ones."

"I spoke with them briefly," said Angus. "They came here from Palawan last year, hoping to work with the Bima people, but that culture already uses the alphabet from the Bujis language. They seemed somewhat frustrated by this discovery."

"So I can imagine," said Everett. "Did you encounter a Miss Kim?"

"Aye," said the Scotsman, "but there were quite a few lassies by that name. It seems to be a common surname in Korea."

Next week: Red Star Over The Dutch East Indies...

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