The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 420: On Your Marx!

Vlad And Anna's Airship Service

Some Pacific islands were famed in song and legend. Aneityum was not among them. The entry in the Almanac was quite terse, suggesting an island of unusual unimportance. Their maps weren't significantly more informative. After some searching, Peters spotted it in margin of their chart of the New Hebrides, half-hidden by the copyright. The lieutenant tapped it with his finger, then glanced at his companion.

"It doesn't seem like much of a place," he observed. "What can we possibly hope to find there?"

"I wouldn't care to hazard a guess," said Jenkins. "Still, it's our only lead, so I suppose we'd better pay it a visit. How long will it take us to get there?"

"With the wind and sea on our quarter, I imagine we can do it in ten hours."

Jenkins nodded ruefully. On a vessel like the Thumper, this was ten hours too long.

Passage aboard the gunboat was the predictable ordeal. When her battered crew finally reached Aneityum, they wondered if it was worth the effort, for the island looked even less remarkable in real life than it did on paper. It was an irregular circle, perhaps nine miles across, dominated -- to the extent this was possible -- by the undistinguished peak of Mount Inrerow (2,795' on a good day). From a distance, the place seemed uninhabited. It didn't look significantly more populous as they drew closer.

"Are we quite sure this is Aneityum?" Fenwick asked Peters.

"We're in the right place," Peters replied defensively.

"`Anonymous' seems more like it," said the signalman. "Where is everyone?"

Peters studied the shoreline, then shook his head. "I imagine this place suffered from Western diseases and the depredations of the blackbirders, like so many other islands in Melanesia," he sighed. "The Royal Navy did what it could to suppress the latter, but there was little they could do about the former."

"Let us hope this hasn't left them with too great grudge against Europeans," said Fenwick.

"Or that they remember the Royal Navy as friends," added Peters.

According to the Almanac, the largest settlement on Aneityum was a village named Anelcauhaut, on the island's southern coast. This information was accompanied by the note `believed still to be inhabited'. With nothing else to go on, Peters steered the Thumper toward the western end of the island, then worked his way east so they could examine the shoreline. At last they spotted a likely-looking cluster of huts on the shore of a small lagoon. Beyond this, on the other side of a headland, a tall metal derrick rose above the trees.

"That looks rather like a mooring mast," Peters observed. "Does the Almanac make any mention of an air station here?"

"No," replied Fenwick. "It seems reluctant even to admit the possibility of a harbor. I'd say this deserves investigation."

They rounded the headland to see a modest-sized stretch of cleared land -- quite obviously artificial -- partially hidden from view by a thin screen of trees. Through binoculars, the Englishmen could make our a warehouse, a hydrogen plant, and what looked like a machine shop in addition to the mast. A track led from the clearing to a sturdy-looking wharf.

"That seems like an unusually substantial facility for such an out-of-the-way place," Peters remarked.

Fenwick nodded. "There's always been money to be made providing services to people who wish to avoid notice at the regular stations. I wonder who his customers are."

It seemed the Thumper's approach had been detected, for they drew alongside the wharf to find a party waiting. This was led by a couple with a distinct Eastern European cast to their features. The man was lean and fit, with the face of a book seller or revolutionary. The woman was somewhat more robust -- Fenwick was reminded of a nursery rhyme involving platters.

"Who are you and why are you here?" the man asked suspiciously.

"My name is Fenwick," said the signalman. "I'm a.. um.. inspector for His Majesty's Bureau of Fisheries. I would like to examine your port records."

"We can't allow that" the man growled. "It would be unwarranted interference with the operation of the free market!"

"It would also be a blatant attempt to oppose the will of the proletariat!" added the woman.

The two paused for a moment and exchanged glances. Fenwick thought he detected a trace of amusement before they resumed their scowls. What was that all about? he wondered.

"Perhaps we can reach some sort of compromise," he suggested. "We're only interested in information about a freighter named the Viking Girl II."

This didn't seem to improve matters. "Just why are you interested in this vessel?" the woman demanded disdainfully, in a tone of voice worthy of a princess.

Some instinct told Fenwick this wasn't a time to for dissimulation. "We've been trying to trace the movements of one of her passengers -- a young Asian lady with a motorcycle. We believe she's being pursued by a group of renegade nationalists who wish her ill."

Their hosts' attitudes seemed to undergo a dramatic change. They had a brief exchange in Russian, unaware that Fenwick spoke the language. "Vlad," said the woman, "if what this man says is true, that means the Baroness is working with the Japanese now."

"I know, Anna," said the man. "And fate has presented us with a weapon to use against her." He reached down to offer Fenwick and Peters a hand up to the dock.

"You must understand that Captain Helga is a friend of ours," he told the Englishmen, "so we're reluctant to give away information that might make its way to her competitors, but I see no harm this time. The lady you mention did depart on the Viking Girl II, but she joined the vessel here in Aneityum. She'd arrived several days earlier aboard an Italian airship. This was a Norge class semi-rigid, owned by a man named Vincenzo..."

Fenwick was thoughtful as Peters took the Thumper back out to sea. This was the third time they'd encountered an Italian connection. According to the reports he'd read back in Cairns, the Ujelang Event had involved an Italian opera singer. Miss Kim had been riding an Italian motorcycle. Now it appeared she'd travelled aboard an Italian airship. He was familiar with the Norge class from Jane's. Like everything made by Italians, they were very fast. What was one doing so far from home, he wondered?

"It seems we must identify this airship Vlad mentioned," he remarked to Peters. "Do you have any idea who they might be? There can't be too many Norge class vessels in this part of the world"

The lieutenant hesitated before he replied. His expression suggested that something about the situation defied his powers of explanation. "There's only one possibility," he said at last. "It must be the Sky Pirates of Tahiti."

Fenwick stared at his companion. "Could you repeat that name please?"

Next week: So That's What Was Inside...

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