R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 45: Bright Harbor Lights

Iverson and Sarah by the harbor

"So these pirates are members of some renegade German nationalist group?" asked MacKiernan.

"That's what Michaelson would have us believe," said Everett. "And I see no reason not to take the senior captain at his word, since I can't imagine why he'd invent such a tale."

"And he's been secretly cooperating with the German government, with the approval of Admiral Wentworth, to track these scoundrels down?"

"So he claims," said Everett, "but I suspect there's more to the story than this."

"What about the fellows who attacked our old ship? Where do they fit in?"

Everett thought back, remembering their dismay when the mysterious cruiser had opened fire, blowing their vessel in half. In the bow section, he and his men had been lucky to escape with their lives. The rest of his crew had not been as fortunate.

"The subject never arose," he said. "But they didn't seem to be working with the nationalists, and that can hardly have been a German government vessel, so there must be another party involved."

"Who could they have been? Ships like that aren't common."

This was an understatement. The vessel had been a monster -- at least seven million cubic feet enclosed volume, with a row of four engines on each side.

"I'd wondered about the Americans," said Everett. "According to Jane's, they 'o have an airship of that design. But according to our attach´┐Żin Sunnyvale, the vessel is still undergoing acceptance tests,"

"The French?" asked Lieutenant Iverson

MacKiernan shook his head. "We keep a close watch on their fleet. Their only yards capable of building a ship that size are Astra-Torres and Chalais-Meudon, and all of their products are accounted for."

Jenkins held up his hand for silence. "Gentlemen, I believe I'm getting a signal from the transmitter we planted in Michaelson's office."

They gathered around the signalman while he adjusted the receiver. Soon an unfamiliar female voice emerged from the speaker.

"I know what you want," it crooned.

"I believe you do, my dear," came Michaleson's reply.

"What's this?" whispered MacKiernan. "Is the fellow having an affair?"

"Here you go, sir," said the voice, "fresh Djarling."

They heard a clink of pottery followed by an appreciative sigh. "Thank you, Miss Perkins. This is a fine cup of tea."

"Well," said the Exec after a moment. "That wasn't very informative."

Jenkins shrugged. "I'll leave a receiver in town with a wire recorder so we can review future transmissions at our leisure. What should we do now, Captain?"

All eyes turned to Everett while he reflected on the things they'd learned. "I cannot help but wonder what these pirates were doing on Miss Sarah's island," he mused. "Why would German nationalists visit a French penal colony when the two countries are still technically at war? Miss Sarah, did the Governor reveal any clues?"

"That man," said the girl contemptuously. "He never said anything -- just dropped hints about how wealthy he was going to become in an effort to impress me -- but it all began with the Russians..."

"Russians?" asked several people at once.

"Why, yes," said Sarah, "anthropologists from Odessa. They wanted to visit that old ruin, the Temple of the Old Ones, near where you crashed. He charged them an exorbitant fee, then ordered his guides to spy on them. The Wolkenflieger's first visit came right after they left."

Everett held up his hand to forestall the interruptions. "First visit?"

"Yes, seven weeks ago. They departed a few days later."

"Seven weeks ago," mused MacKiernan. "That would be just after they raided the Russian laboratory at Oa Ki."

"The timing is most certainly suggestive," said Everett. "What happened next?"

"The Governor ordered prisoners to gather rocks from the old quarry near the Temple. Then, when the Duck arrived and the airship returned, he tried to get fresh and I had to hit him with one of Daddy's war clubs. I joined Pierre and we were planning to escape from one of the old smugglers' landings when we met you."

"This," said Everett, "will require some thought."

Helga tapped the chart. "Here the place. Is there the time?"

Everett examined his figures. "I believe we can do it if Iwamoto can continue to work his magic with the engines."

They were alone in the mess hall, studying a map. Around them the ship was quiet, most of the others ashore for a night on the town.

"Good," said the woman. "Helga sorry about your crew," she added.

"My crew?" asked Everett.

"The night games." She smiled. "Maybe Helga play too rough. Didn't mean to hurt them."

Everett considered his reply carefully. "I saw no need to intervene... provided things didn't get out of hand."

"Ha!" the woman said. "Helga know what you mean! Helga have eyes to see! Helga leave island girl's boy alone! What you think happen to those two?"

"I'd feel it improper to speculate," said Everett. "But may I ask an unrelated question of a somewhat personal nature?"

"Ja! Ask whatever you wants."

"Why do you always refer to yourself in the third person?

The woman thought this over. "It has been my experience," she observed, "that people expect this pattern of speech from natives of Sweden. And it saves me from having to resolve distinctions between the definite and indefinite form of the first person singular -- such as `I own the axe' and `the axe belongs to me' -- that don't exist in languages of the Scandinavian family."

"I see."

Iverson was walking along Sheridan Street, heading from the Air Station into town, when he spotted Sarah some distance ahead. Even in a crowd, she stood out, like a small bright flame in the soft evening dusk. He slowed, wondering what to say, when she noticed him.

"John!" She stopped, smiled, and the rest of their surroundings seemed to fade into the background.

"Sarah," he said cautiously. "I'm glad I found you. I'd like to apologize if it seemed like I was paying attention to... uh..." he hesitated, afraid to say something that would break the spell.

"And I'm sorry I was angry," she replied. "I should have known better. Helga and I had a talk, and she told me..." Now it was the girl's turn to hesitate. Her usual self-assurance seemed to have vanished. She gazed up at him, her expression unreadable.

Then, to Iverson's surprise, she kissed him.

Next week: Return to Sarah's Island...

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