Episode 427: An Iconic Island
MacKiernan and Miss Perkins had met to discuss the results of their
investigation on Guam. Once again, Abercrombie was present to serve as
chaperon. His presence did little to reduce the tension.
"Things may not have gone quite as we anticipated, but I suppose all's well
that ends well," MacKiernan suggested hopefully.
Miss Perkins scowled. "Aside from serving as matchmakers, what did we
MacKiernan held up a sheet of paper. "We did obtain a list of missions the
crucifix could have come from and a list of islands the HMS Charybdis
visited. One name appears on both."
"Iwojima," Miss Perkins read. "That would be Japanese, meaning
something like `sulphur island'. What does the Almanac have to say about
"Very little," MacKiernan admitted. "It's a member of the Volcano Islands
chain, some distance south of the Ogasawa group. It was discovered by the
Spanish in the middle of the Sixteenth Century, followed a few years later by
an expedition from Japan. Since then, ownership of the place seems to have
passed back and forth as each nation sought to foist it off on the other.
It currently belongs to the Japanese. The principal exports are sulphur
and sugar cane, presumably not in combination. The Imperial Japanese Navy
also maintains a small naval base there -- it doesn't seem the sort of place
one could maintain a very large naval base."
"That does nae sound promising," Abercrombie remarked.
"No, but it does seem like a good place for the Japanese nationalists to
maintain a presence -- close to the Home Islands, but insignificant enough
to escape close supervision."
"This might also make it difficult for us to justify a visit," MacKiernan
Miss Perkins glanced at him as if disappointed by his lack of imagination.
"We will pretend to be having mechanical difficulties," she announced.
"Abercrombie, is there anything aboard that seems ready to break?"
"Aye," grumbled the Scotsman. "Number Five is running rough, the propeller
on Number Three is out of balance, three maneuvering valves are sticking
and have to be operated by hand, we have leaks in Number One and Two ballast
tanks, and Frames 53 and 260 are corroded where ballast water leaked
"Right," MacKiernan sighed in resignation. "Pick whatever one seems best."
Iwojima was one of those islands that appeared to have been assembled by a
committee. Its northern and central portions were flat, covered with what
MacKiernan took to be sugar cane plantations -- sulphur plantations seemed
unlikely. The southwestern end was dominated by the awkward bulk of Mount
Suribachi, which loomed above it like an overturned sugar bowl. The naval
base mentioned in the Almanac lay southeast of this, accompanied by a small
MacKiernan had invited Miss Kim to the control car to see if she recognized
the place. She studied the mountain as if it represented some sort of
design flaw. "I remember that volcano," she told them. "It looks like an
overturned rice bowl."
"I suppose it does," said MacKiernan. "Where did the German nationalists
maintain their establishment?"
"It was west of the naval station, at the foot of the mountain."
MacKiernan focused his binoculars to see a substantial-looking barracks, now
abandoned, surrounded on its landward sides by imposing lengths of barbed
"That's quite the stronghold," he observed. "How did you manage to escape?"
"I swam. The Germans did not expect this. I came ashore east of the
harbor, where I was found by an English shopkeeper. I was afraid he'd turn
me in, but he and his wife hid me until they could smuggle me off the
island. I did not expect this."
MacKiernan sensed there was more to her story, but it seemed this was all
they were going to hear for today.
They arrived at the air station to find a team of workmen in overalls
erecting a windsock at the end of the field. Behind them, a ground crew
waited in regimented rows -- it seemed the Land of the Rising Sun didn't
believe in providing mechanized handling equipment at isolated outposts.
Their efficiency was as impressive as their discipline and soon the R-46
was riding from the mast.
When MacKiernan and Miss Perkins stepped from the lift, they found the
commander waiting for them. "Welcome to Iwojima," he announced. "I am
Lieutenant Hisakawa, Imperial Navy."
"I'm Lieutenant-Commander Fergus MacKiernan, captain of His Majesty's
Airship R-46," MacKiernan said politely. "We had a minor mechanical
problem and wish to call here for repair."
The lieutenant glanced at the ship as if taking in its age. "I
understand," he said. "Will you need our facilities?"
MacKiernan suppressed a scowl at the implied slight of his command. "We
should have necessary parts aboard, but repairs may take some time," he
replied. "I wonder if we might give some of our men shore leave while
"Hai," said the lieutenant. "They are not allowed to visit
base, but they are welcome to visit rest of island."
Miss Kim had given them directions to the spot she'd swum ashore.
MacKiernan and Miss Perkins followed these until they came to a small shop
with a sign that proclaimed it to be `Sand's Island Trading Post'.
A cheerful-looking middle-aged couple was relaxing on the veranda in pair of
wicker chairs. The man rose to his feet as they approached.
"Good afternoon!" he announced. "Welcome to Sand's of Iwojima. I am Allan,
and this is the wife, Edna. How may I help you?"
"I'm Lieutenant-Commander Fergus MacKiernan, captain of His Majesty' s
Airship R-46, and this is Miss Perkins," said MacKiernan. "We were passing
by and thought we'd pay a visit to your shop."
"We saw you come in," said Allan. "That's a nice vessel you have, but is
the tail section supposed to droop like that?"
MacKiernan suppressed a frown. "It's a new innovation."
"Right," said the man.
His wife had stepped indoors to procure a tray of tea. "Here you are,
dearie," she told Miss Perkins. "You remind me of that Korean lady who
visited us the other month."
MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exchanged glances. "Korean lady?" said Miss
"She was the nicest woman," said Edna. "She'd just escaped from the
German nationalists and she was ever so grateful when we smuggled her
off the island."
"German nationalists?" asked MacKiernan.
"I never did understand why they were here, since their nations were at
odds during the War," said Allan, "but they seemed to be quite friendly
with the Japanese nationalists."
"Lieutenant Hisakawa seemed quite taken with them," said Edna. "I gather
they were the ones who got him this command."
"Quite," said MacKiernan, for lack of a better reply. "How did you
contrive to get your guest off the island?"
"We spirited her aboard the freighter that smuggles fuel and
hydrogen-generation supplies in from some American air station," Allan
"Why-ever should they need fuel and hydrogen-generation supplies?" asked
Miss Perkins. "Surely they receive such things from Japan."
"I imagine it's to resupply that big airship that calls here from time to
time," said the shopkeeper. "It's quite the monster -- at least six million
cubic feet enclosed volume, with eight engines in rows of four on each
"Honey," interrupted Edna, "speaking of airships, here comes one now."
MacKiernan and Miss Perkins turned to look where the woman was pointing.
For a moment, neither one spoke.
"Oh dear," said MacKiernan.
Next week: More Fun With Materials Science...
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