The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 317: More Fun With Fonetic Alfabets

A jar of kimchi

Captain Everett opened the Flying Cloud's log and considered his next entry. It had to be truthful enough to withstand scrutiny, but sufficiently oblique to conceal the fact that they knew who their quarry were and had no intention of pursuing them. Brevity, he decided, was the best approach.

14-June-1927. 10 11' S 123 35' E. Kupang Air Station. We are continuing our investigation of piracy in the Dutch East Indies. We have, as yet, no certain information regarding the marauders' identity, but the absence of any recent attacks on shipping suggests that our presence here has put an end to the depredations.

Satisfied, he put the volume away and made his way to the control car where his people were waiting to deliver their reports.

Iverson spoke first. "Miss Sarah and I examined the handling party logs," said the lieutenant. "The supposed Argentine vessel was undoubtedly the Americans. Their dimensions, specifications, and mooring requirements matched the AT-38 in every particular. They were carrying several passengers from Buton. This must have netted them a nice profit -- more than they could possibly making from this piracy."

"How did you obtain access to the manifest?" asked Murdock. "I thought those were proprietary."

Everett glanced at the ballast station, where Sarah was working on weight and balance calculations. The island girl noticed his attention and smiled. "We can assume that a spear was involved," he remarked. "Mister Murdock, what were you able to determine about their movements here?"

"It appears we missed them by two days," said Murdock. "According to the departure records, they lifted ship on the 12th, bound for Port Moresby."

"Do we have any reason to suppose this was their actual destination?" asked Everett.

"They took on cargo and passengers for New Guinea," said Iverson. "Unless they're planning to abscond with these and sell them, they're committed to calling at the port."

Everett nodded. "It's difficult to imagine they'd find any buyers for the latter. Jenkins, did you learn anything of interest in town?"

"No," said the signalman, "but I have been examining the advertising flier you picked up on Buton. The content is unremarkable -- an advertisement for some peculiar form of cabbage -- but the medium is food for thought. The document was written in Hangul."

"Hangul?" said Iverson. "I am unfamiliar with the term."

"This is the formal name for the Korean alphabet," said Jenkins. "It's a phonetic script invented by the Joseon Dynasty during the Fifteenth Century."

"Why did they need a new script?" asked Murdock. "Surely they could have used Chinese characters." He seemed intrigued by the prospect of an invented alphabet.

"I understand that they tried," said Jenkins. "Unfortunately, the Chinese writing system is logographic, with a separate symbol for each word. This makes its application to other languages problematical. Mandarin and Cantonese are members of the Sino-Tibetan family. Korean is an Altaic language, with an entirely different grammar and vocabulary."

"What are the other Altaic languages?" asked Murdock.

It was Sarah who volunteered the answer. "It's a family of Eurasian languages, proposed by Castrén in 1844. They include Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Manchu, Turkish, Samoyed, and Finno-Ugric."

"Wherever did you learn that?" marveled Iverson.

"Mother told me. She learned it from a visiting anthropologist."

"So the posters were written in the Korean alphabet," mused MacKiernan. "Could this have any connection with our erstwhile guest, Miss Kim?"

"We must consider this possibility," said Everett. "She must have had some contacts in this part of the Pacific, and the name of Buton keeps coming up. This suggests the island has more significance than we realized. I believe we should reinvestigate the place."

"What about the Americans?" asked MacKiernan.

"I have given the matter some thought," said Everett. "We were ordered to investigate reports of piracy here in the Dutch East Indies. It would be difficult for us to justify pursuing the fellows to New Guinea without revealing that we know who they are. This might raise some uncomfortable questions. But it would be quite reasonable for us to conduct another sweep of the Banda Sea, find no sign of them, and report we've put an end to their activities in this region."

"What if they decide to attack shipping in New Guinea?"

Everett allowed himself a smile. It was rare that he had a chance to turn this particular set of tables. "Then," he said brightly, "it will be Captain Michaelson's problem."

Emily and Clarice strolled along Darwin's harbor, past wharves piled with fishing gear and the graving dock where workers had finished repairing the hole Mister Fuller's less-than-impressive torpedo had made in the Thunderbird. At last they paused at a dock where a bluff-bowed dragger bumped against its fenders. Squat and businesslike, the vessel looked every bit as ungraceful as its owner.

"Are you sure this is the right idea?" asked Clarice. As their departure approached, she was beginning to have second thoughts about this adventure.

"Someone shipped a cargo of diesel oil down the coast on that freighter with the funny name," said Emily. "This is a Clue. And Aunt Prodigia won't mind if we borrow the Drudge. How many oysters does she need?"

The two young women shared a giggle, then hopped down to the deck. This was festooned with trawls, coils of rigging, and parts of a harpoon gun their aunt had brought aboard -- presumably in case she encountered a particularly obstreperous mollusk. A list of prices for various forms of marine life was tacked to a wall of the pilothouse. While Emily overhauled the mooring lines, Clarice went below to deal with the craft's ancient make-and-break engine.

It dominated the compartment -- a monument to some earlier and much cruder era of mechanical engineering. Two mighty cylinders rose like pillars of some temple to internal combustion next to a flywheel the size of a manhole cover. Donning a pair of work gloves, Clarice topped off all the oil cups, greased the bearings, opened the fuel cock, and primed what passed for a carburetor. Then she hauled on the rim of the flywheel to pull the engine through until it was balanced on top of its compression stroke. After a long pause to catch her breath, she switched on the ignition, braced both feet, and gave the flywheel another tug. With a hiss, a wheeze, and a reluctant succession of clunks, the motor chugged to life.

Satisfied the engine was running -- at least for now -- Clarice went back on deck to help her companion cast off. They had just finished and were pulling away from the dock when a slim woman in traveling garb leapt aboard and strode forward to join them in the pilothouse.

"Miss Perkins!" they exclaimed as she removed broad hat that concealed her features.

"Clarice and Emily," said the secretary. "I'm glad I found you. We have work to do."

Next week: We Will Avoid The Obvious Pun...

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