The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 427: An Iconic Island

Raising a windsock on Iwo Jima

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 accomplish?"

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 the place?"

"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 observed.

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 over them."

"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 air station.

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 wire.

"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 we're here?"

"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 Perkins.

"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."

"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 said cheerfully.

"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 side."

"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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