The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 527: What Was He Up To Here?

Coastal class blimp

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins sat across the camp table from Professor Otkupshchikov while their host's massive Samoan assistant brought tea. The archaeologist seemed unsurprised by their visit, as if representatives of the Royal Navy Airship Service dropped by every day. He waited until his assistant had finished pouring, then raised his cup in salute.

"Za prekrasnykh dam!" he announced, with a nod to Miss Perkins.

"Blagodaryu vas," the secretary said in reply.

MacKiernan studied their host. The Russian might look like the archetype of an absent-minded professor, but his contacts seemed to be everywhere and the man had shown a talent for turning up in unexpected places, apparently by accident. He'd been on Narau to warn Iverson against Natasha, he'd showed up on American Samoa to rescue Murdock, Isobel Elmsford, and her governess from Baron Warfield, and he'd led the Flying Cloud on a weeks-long chase across the Pacific when they were searching for Lord and Lady Milbridge. It was growing difficult to dismiss these things as coincidence.

"We're pleased to meet you again," he said, giving no hint of his suspicions. "I've been admiring your blimp."

The professor glanced at the vessel riding from the mast behind them. An ancient Coastal class -- one of the least attractive vessels ever to take to the sky -- she offered little to admire. The outline of a leaping dolphin graced one of her decidedly ungraceful fins. "I've had the Delfin since the War," he said fondly. "When Trotsky and his people `replaced' the Csar, I felt it wise to leave the country, so I appropriated her from a shed in Okhotsk and fled to the South Pacific."

"And you've been here ever since?"

"Da. I have long had a professional interest in this region."

MacKiernan nodded to himself. Once he might have accepted this as an answer, but it was time to get to the bottom of the matter. "I understand you're here on Woodlark Island to investigate some theories of your colleague, Karolek Solovyov," he said.

"That is correct" Otkupshchikov replied cheerfully. "Solovyov spent several seasons in these islands between 1902 and 1912. He found that they shared many myths and legends with the Baltic region, such as the golden-haired girl and the three kraken, the mighty musical instrument that is also a weapon, and the boy who cried that primordial gods who filtered down from the sky before the dawn of time were going to rise again and sweep the Earth clean of humanity. He hypothesized that this region was visited ancient aeronauts from the vicinity of what is now Finland, sometime during the Bronze Age."

Beside MacKiernan, Miss Perkins raised an eyebrow. It was clear she didn't find this hypothesis any more plausible than he did. "Surely this might have posed something of a challenge to the people of the time," she suggested diplomatically.

"Why should that be?" asked the professor. "Any culture that can produce rope, cloth, and has mastered the use of fire has the wherewithal to construct hot air balloons."

The secretary seemed unconvinced. "Did you learn of this site from Professor Solovyov," she said, gesturing at the marae whose tumbled stones still dominated the far end of the meadow.

Otkupshchikov shook his head. "My colleague passed away before the War. This site was brought to my attention by his student Karlov."

Now it was MacKiernan's turn to raise an eyebrow. This chronology did not make sense. "You say that Karlov was Solovyov's student? How can that be? We've met the man several times and he doesn't look a day older than thirty. That would have made him a little more than a child when your colleague was still alive."

The Professor made a dismissive gesture "Perhaps he was a prodigy. This was quite common in our country. It's clear the man is a scholar, for his knowledge of history is extensive. He also has some knowledge of the physical sciences. He may have forgotten some of what happened after the Revolution, but haven't we all."

"When did you happen to meet him?" asked Miss Perkins.

The professor took another sip of his tea. "That would have been iat a cafe in Noumea, during the 1920 field season. He introduced himself and suggested an expedition to investigate some temples on an island to the south."

Miss Perkins glanced at MacKiernan and held up two fingers where their host couldn't see them. He nodded. It seemed Karlov had appeared two years before the White Russians began their work on the Device. Another thought occurred to him. "Do you happen to recall the position of this island" he asked.

The professor reached for a journal labeled `1920. and thumbed through it until he fund a page. "It was Latitude 22 36' S, Longitude 168 57' E. Have you visited the place yourselves?"

That's Sarah's Island! What was Karlov doing there? thought MacKiernan. "I would have to check our logbook," he replied carefully. "I take it you've encountered the man since then."

Otkupshchikov nodded. "He's traveled with me from time to time when he couldn't take passage with his friends on the Tranquility."

This time the Irishman couldn't suppress his reaction. "The Tranquility!" he exclaimed.

The professor seemed not to notice his guest's consternation. "She's a small island freighter, owned by man named Ray. I've hired him myself to ship the Delfin upwind at the beginning of a field season."

MacKiernan resisted the urge to slap himself on the forehead. How could they have missed the connection! The Australian vessel had been traveling back and forth under their noses for most of the past two years.

"Did Karlov come to Woodlark Island with you?" Miss Perkins asked while the Irishman was struggling to recover his poise.

"Da," Otkupshchikov told her. "He'd heard of a British expedition sponsored by that Baron Warfield dzhentl'men, and he wanted to learn what they'd found."

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins paused for a moment, speechless. This was almost too much information to take.

"Were they here when you arrived?" MacKiernan asked at last.

The professor shook his head. "Nyet," he said dissmissively. "This was just as well, for their fieldwork was terrible. You'd have thought they were looters looking for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. But now that theyre gone, I can investigate the place properly."

"What became of Karlov?" asked Miss Perkins.

"He vanished one day," said the professor. "He does that sometimes."

MacKiernan thought this over, then glanced at the journal Otkupshchikov had set aside.

"Would you happen to have recorded the times and places you met him?"

"Of course!" said the Professor. "Good record-keeping is one of the keys to good fieldwork!"

Next week: Among The Adversaries...

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