The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 512: Another Part Of The Equation

Emergency Hammer

They gathered in the Flying Cloud's mess hall to examine the document Pierre had spirited away from the Germans. This proved to be a sketch of an island, with notes written in Cyrillic. After consulting the Almanac and making some assumptions regarding the translation of local names into Russian, Jenkins concluded that it represented Nendo in the Santa Cruz Islands.

"Isn't that one of the sites Mister Cartwell visited with the Philadelphian when he was looking for squidbats?" asked Iverson.

Everett considered the source from which they'd obtained this information and suppressed a sigh. "So we understood from Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine. Let us hope the place is still intact. What does it have in the way of facilities?"

Jenkins consulted the Almanac again and frowned. "These do not appear to be particularly extensive. We might not be able to expect resupply."

"Given the place's obscurity, this doesn't come as a surprise," Everett observed, "Miss Sarah, what is the status of our consumables?"

The island girl didn't need to glance at her clipboard. "Gas cells are 71% full, and we have 1900 gallons of fuel and 7,250 lbs of ballast," she said cheerfully.

Everett nodded. "That should serve. Mister Iverson, plot us a course for Nendo."

The Santa Cruz Island were not particularly noteworthy for the mark they'd made on history. For many generations, the only Europeans to frequent them had been whalers and blackbirders -- the notorious slavers who `recruited' laborers to serve in the plantations, fisheries, and mines of the South Pacific region. The Royal Navy had helped put an end to this scourge in the 19th Century -- an accomplishment of which it could be justly proud. Since then, the islands had enjoyed benign neglect from a succession of Colonial powers, most recently the Crown.

Lata, near the mouth of Graciosa Bay, was every bit as rustic as the Almanac had implied. Its air station was clearly inadequate to handle a vessel of the Flying Cloud's size, so Everett sent a party down by Transporter, then stood offshore to conserve fuel and ballast. The airmen stepped from the hoist platform to find that a crowd of islanders had gathered to watch -- it seemed a visit from the Royal Naval Airship Service was a significant event here.

A young man in tropical garb stepped forward to greet them. "Good morning," he said politely. "I'm Andrew Merrit, Junior-Assistant-Under-Administrator for the Santa Cruz Islands. Is there some way I might be of assistance?"

"I'm Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Naval Airship Service, and these are my companions, Jenkins and Pierre," said Iverson. "We're trying to locate a site that may contain material of interest to the Admiralty."

The administrator seemed amused by the possibility. "It's difficult imagine that anything here might be of interest to the outside world," he chuckled. "Do you know where this place might be?"

"We have a map of the site," said Iverson. "If we've interpreted it correctly, it points to this village on the southwest coast."

Merrit studied the sketch and nodded. "Of course," he said, as if to himself. "This would be the village of Bwang."

"Bwang?" marveled Jenkins. "Is that really its name?"

Merrit shrugged. "One grows accustomed to these things. The local residents speak of a haus same tamberan, which would translate to something like `Science Spirit House'."

Iverson frowned. "The name seems suggestive," he said cautiously. "Do you have any idea what it might signify?"

The administrator gave another shrug. "Not in the slightest," he admitted. "I've seen the thing myself and it's nothing more than an abandoned bungalow. I'll be happy to loan you my launch if you wish to pay it a visit."

They reached Bwang shortly after noon. The village's inhabitants seemed to be enjoying an extended lunch, but the airmen had no problem finding their destination on their own. This proved to be an abandoned two-room bungalow nestled beneath the palms. It was obviously of local construction -- the design, materials, and craftsmanship all attested to this -- but somehow it seemed out of place, as if it was a property from some entirely different dramatic production.

"You noticed it too, sir," Jenkins remarked to Iverson.

The lieutenant nodded. "Yes, though I can't put my finger on the anomaly. Perhaps the interior will offer some insight."

The front room had apparently served as a living and sleeping area. Its furnishings were rudimentary -- a hammock, wicker chairs, some chests of drawers, and a few vanity items that suggested the occupant had been female. Most of the personal items had been removed, but the ones that remained were in some disorder, as if their owner had left in haste.

Pierre examined an article of clothing that had never been intended to see the light of day. "Could this have fit our mysterious Natasha?" he wondered.

"It's impossible to say," Jenkins observed. "The fairer sex is privy to secrets that even the RNAS Signal Corps does not understand."

Iverson noticed a familiar-looking poster of woman in bathing apparel accompanied by the legend `You look better in a Ujelang'. "What is this inscription in Cyrillic?" he asked, pointing to a scrawl at the bottom.

Jenkins frowned. "It translates to something like `this is ironic'. I am at a loss to explain this. Perhaps the contents of the other room will be more informative."

The back room had been adapted for use as an office or workshop. A desk by the far wall was littered with the remains of what must once have been some complicated electronic device -- a confusion of smashed chassis, broken wires, and shattered valves. Iverson noted a hammer that lay amidst the wreckage. "It appears that someone destroyed this equipment deliberately," he observed. "Could it have been a wireless set?"

"I very much doubt it," said Jenkins. "I don't see any sign of the necessary coils or antennae connections."

Pierre had already begun removing the drawers to examine their contents. Like the ones in the front room, these appeared to have been emptied by someone in considerable haste to leave. After he'd finished his inspection, he reached inside the desk to recover a set of papers that must have fallen behind them.

"These are covered with equations written in a feminine hand," he observed. "Can either of you determine what they mean?"

"Not immediately," Jenkins confessed. "I imagine they were left by Miss Natasha. There cannot be an unlimited number of mysterious Russian woman wandering about the Pacific. Let us see what else we can find."

A search of the rest of th bungalow turned up nothing, but as the airmen left the building to make their way back to the beach, something caught Pierre's eye.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" he exclaimed as he crouched to examine something next to the path. This proved to be a small notepad someone had dropped, then trodden into the dirt. The passage of more than one rainy season had reduced most of it to pulp.

Jenkins produced tools from his satchel and began to extract Pierre's find, taking care to disturb it as little as possible. "I'm not sure how much of this material can have survived," he told the others, "but we'll wish to take it back to Cairns for examination."

Next week: They Were Both Incomparable Achievements...

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