R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 43: Catfight at the Oa Ki Corral

Helga and Sarah with axe and spear

Sarah cut the motor as they approached the shore. The motorboat slowed, coasting, until it ran up the beach with a grate of sand. The setting was idyllic -- clear blue waters, peaceful shore, and bright green palms waving in the breeze -- but Sarah's mood was dark.

"Come along," she snapped.

Helga shrugged and gathered her equipment. Whatever was bothering the island girl, it was no concern of hers. They tugged the launch farther onto the beach, secured its painter to a convenient tree, then made their way along the shore, looking for signs of a trail.

The sand was clean and white, scored by the tracks of birds. From time to time they came upon a balk of timber or the remains of some crate that might have washed ashore after a storm, but otherwise there was no sign of man. Helga began to wonder about their mission. Had they come to the right island? Had there ever been anything here, or was the story they'd heard in Kupang false, planted to lead people astray? This small coral island seemed an unlikely place for a phosphate mine.

"Stop," ordered Sarah. "We've come far enough."

"Why stop?" said Helga. "What we looking for?"

"It's time for us to talk!"

"About what?" asked Helga.

"You!" said Sarah, gesturing with her spear. "You're so selfish! You want to have every man on this ship!"

Helga laughed. "It good game! Boys chase after Helga. Not realize Helga is chasing after them until it too late."

Sarah leveled her weapon at the Swede. "You've played it long enough!" she announced. "If you want to chase after Iverson, you'll have to fight me!"

Helga lifted her eyebrows in surprise. Then she raised her axe, assumed a guard, and studied her adversary. The island girl might have been shorter, lighter, and weaker, but she held the spear like she knew how to use it -- pointed like a rifle, using her left arm to aim with her right arm and hips poised to deliver a thrust. When this came, Helga would have to block with the haft of her own weapon, then try to close before the girl could circle away.

A bout like this would be quick, deadly, decided by spirit as much as skill. As Helga stared at Sarah's face, trying to read the girl's spirit, she saw the sparkle of tears. She shook her head, stepped back, and lowered her weapon.

"What are you doing?" cried Sarah. "Pick up your axe! Fight!"

"No," said Helga quietly. "Helga not realize."

"Not realize what!"

"Ha! You not realize either! But Helga promise to leave cute blond boy alone. He too young anyway."

Sarah hesitated. "How do I know I can trust you?"

Helga met Sarah's gaze. "Helga give her word. Helga do many naughty things, but she never break her word."

They continued along the beach in silence. Sarah glanced surreptitiously at her companion. Could she trust the Swede? The woman seemed as insouciant as ever. She also seemed to have a flexible morality when it came to relationships. Did this `flexibility' extend to promises as well?

"Lookie," said Helga. "Somebody landed the boats here. What you think?"

The signs were obvious: marks where some sizable craft had been run ashore and tracks leading up the sand to a break in the undergrowth. Sarah brushed the leaves aside with her spear.

"There's an old trail here. Shall we investigate?"

"That what we came for!"

The brush grew thicker as the two women moved away from the beach. The path was narrow, draped with spiderwebs and vines. In places, they had to clamber over fallen trees.

"Quiet," whispered Helga. "What that?"

Twigs snapped, branches rustled ahead of them, and a massive beast burst from the undergrowth. Its great dark body rippled with muscle. Angry red eyes glared at them above a row of tusks. The thing snorted, pawed the ground, and gathered itself for a to charge.

Sarah raised her spear to face it. "It's a wild boar," she warned Sarah. "They can be dangerous. One of them killed several men from our village."

"Ha!" yelled Helga, lifting her axe. "Run, piggie, or Helga chop you and eat you!"

The animal squealed and fled. Sarah watched it vanish into the brush, then turned to see her comopanion grinning.

"Good," Helga announced. "We fighted together! Now we sisters in arms. Shake the hands?"

Sarah hesitated, unsure how to reply. She stifled a giggle. Then the two women were laughing in each other's arms.

Some time later, they came to a clearing where trees had been cut down to make room for several modern Western-style buildings. Their tin roofs and cinderblock walls looked quite out of place in this tropical setting. The site showed clear signs of violence, with broken windows, shattered doorways, and bullet holes in the walls. The ground was littered with the familiar cartridges of Mauser rifles and some other caliber they didn't recognize, but there was no sign of any inhabitants.

The two women paused in front of one of the buildings to examine a sign on the wall. "That Russian," said Helga. "Let's look inside."

The interior had been looted, but some of the heavier equipment remained: empty steel cabinets, a washbasin, and several long stone tables.

"What this place?" asked Helga. "It not mining camp."

"It looks almost like a chemistry laboratory," said Sarah. "But what would such a thing be doing here?"

"Let's look more."

Other buildings were much the same. In the center of the clearing, they came upon a crater surrounded by the twisted remains of girders. "That look like radio mast," said Helga. "Someone drop the bomb to stopping the signal. When you think this happen?"

Sarah studied the wreckage, noting the way new vines had begun to crawl across the rubble. "A month ago," she decided, "around the time the Wolkenflieger left Kupang."

"Ja," said Helga. "Numbers work out. Germans at Kupang, learn of this place. Attack here, learn of geologist, fly to Darwin. Learn of rocks there, attack Helga's ship, then Wolkenflieger and Duck meet at your island. When Navy men capture Wolkenflieger, airship crew sail to Kupang on Duck and steal L-137. Then they attack Howard's ship.

"They must be surprised see us," she added maliciously. "I hope they shorts get dirty."

"But what are they after?" asked Sarah. "What is this all about?"

"We catch them and ask them," said Helga.

"What if they won't answer?"

"Then," the Swedish woman gave an evil smile, "Helga make them talk."

Next week: A Meeting with Michaelson...

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