The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 382: No One Visits Choiseul, Except For The Cryptic Artifacts

Rock art with enterprising Cthulhus

Everett had summoned the shore parties to the mess hall to deliver their reports. Now he listened as MacKiernan summarized what they'd found.

"We've established beyond any reasonable doubt that the mysterious cruiser visited Guadalcanal on the 14th of August and departed the evening of the 15th," said the signalman. "None of the crew seem to have ventured into town, but there were reports that some unidentified Northern Europeans made inquiries regarding ruins on the island of Choiseul while the vessel was here. Later, on the night of the cruiser's departure, a local blimp captain sighted what might have been the vessel heading in the direction of Choiseul."

"There seems to be a pattern here," Jenkins remarked dryly.

"Quite," said Everett. "One wonders what these Japanese nationalists could find so interesting about Choiseul. What does the Almanac have to say about the place?"

"It was discovered by D'Urville in 1789," said Jenkins. "Since then, it's largely been neglected. It has no significant mineral deposits, the jungle doesn't offer much scope for agriculture, and the native inhabitants haven't been particularly well-disposed toward visitors, except in a culinary sense. The European population is small and restricted to a few coastal settlements."

"Could the Japanese be taking advantage of this situation to establish another secret base?" asked Iverson.

"Perhaps," said Everett, "but they could just as easily be moving against some adversary. It's possible that either the Fat Man's people or the White Russians maintains an establishment there. We will wish to investigate in some way that does not advertise our interest. Mister MacKiernan, you have acquired some experience traveling about the Solomons. I believe this task should fall to you."

Once again, MacKiernan found himself flying up New Georgia Sound aboard an island blimp. This time he was accompanied by Jenkins and Abercrombie rather than Miss Perkins. They might not have been as engaging as Michaelson's secretary, but the signalman shared her facility with languages and the Scotsman could lift heavy things.

The ancient Sea Scout class didn't set any records for speed -- the words `fast' and `blimp' rarely occurred in the same sentence -- and it was evening by the time the vessel reached Choiseul. They moored at a rudimentary air station near the equally rudimentary village of Chirovanga, at the northwest end of the island. No other visitors were in evidence, which was fortunate, for the station's single mast was notably rustic, and inadequate to handle a vessel of any size.

It was obvious the cruiser could never have called here, and no one in the village recalled seeing anything that might have been the airship, but it seemed a party of strangers had arrived on foot four days ago, hired pack horses, and headed into the brush.

"Those must have been the Japanese nationalists," MacKiernan concluded. "The timing is too close to be a coincidence."

"I doobt it," said Abercrombie. "There was nay sign of their vessel, and in a place this wee, it could hardly hae gone unnoticed."

"They must have deployed by Transporter somewhere up the coast," said MacKiernan.

"D'ye want tae put some money on it?"

"You're on!"

It was too late do more that evening, but the next morning, the airmen were able to hire a guide to help them look for the strangers. The trail proved easy to follow, for their quarry hadn't made any attempt at concealment. Around noon, they came to a clearing where someone had pitched several tents in the shade of the trees. Nearby, a small group of men was examining some ancient pile of stone. Pale, blond, and burnt red by the sun, they were quite obviously northern Europeans.

The strangers looked up as the airmen approached. "Hyvää päivää!" one said cheerfully. "Welcome to our camp."

"Good day," MacKiernan replied. "I'm Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Royal Navy Airship Service, and these are my companions, Abercrombie and Jenkins."

"My name is Oskari," said their host. "My colleagues and I are archaeologists from the University of Helsinki."

"You're those Finnish chaps who were at the secret Japanese air station in Australia!" MacKiernan exclaimed.

The man shuffled his feet in embarrassment. "I suppose so," he admitted.

"How did you survive the explosion?"

"We were down in the excavation at the time. After we'd dug our way back to the surface, we found a flatcar in the ruins of the railway yard, carried it to the line, and rode it back to the coast."

Abercrombie raised an eyebrow. "What did ye use for an engine?"

"We rigged a sail," said Oskari. "Speakers of Altaic languages are resourceful. When we reached the depot, everyone had gone, so we found some empty oil drums, lashed them together to build a raft and sailed this to Broome. We already had a sail."

MacKiernan nodded as he digested this information. `Resourceful' seemed like something of an understatement. "I assume you rejoined the Japanese there for your flight to the Solomon Islands."

"No," said Oskari. "They must have flown back to Japan. We took passage on some old island freighter named the Tranquility."

"What brings you to Choiseul?" asked Jenkins.

"We're continuing the research we began in Australia," said Oskari. "It is our belief that the indigenous Lapita culture in this part of the Pacific was influenced by visitors from the Baltic. We were uncovering an artifact that might have proved this when our previous dig was destroyed by the explosion."

"We mustn't exclude the possibility this was some relic left by creatures that filtered down from stars before the dawn of man, sank beneath the waves, and will rise again when the stars are right to sweep the Earth clean of humanity," one of his colleagues noted.

"We have a test for that," Oskari said dismissively.

This all sounded like so much nonsense to MacKiernan. Judging from their expressions, his companions seemed to feel the same way. "This is quite fascinating," he told the Finns. "I imagine you're anxious to return to your work. We will leave you to your research."

The three airmen said little as they made their way back to the village. It seemed this particular investigation was a dead end. The Japanese nationalists must have bypassed this island on their flight to the northwest. With a head start of several days, they could be anywhere by now.

At last Abercrombie broke the silence. "Those folk didnae hae anything to do wi' the mysterious cruiser," he observed.

"So it would seem," MacKiernan admitted ruefully.

The Scotsman grinned. "Pay oop!"

Next week: Karlov's Story...

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