The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 82: Rabaul

The ship flying past the volcanoes

Until he reached the Pacific, Captain Everett had never imagined there could be so many variations on the theme of `tropical seaport'. Some, like Darwin, were isolated outposts in the middle of a jungle. Others, like Jakarta, were substantial settlements, surrounded by extensive tracts of farmland, and home to significant populations. Even from the air, it was obvious that Rabaul was German. Its streets were clean and well-organized -- to the extent that this was possible in the South Pacific, its harbor looked as modern as anything in Europe, and its airship station rivaled the one at Cairns.

The surrounding countryside was in dramatic contrast with the town itself. Neat colonial houses gave way to fields that looked straight out of the Stone Age. Beyond them, the jungle lacked only dinosaurs to complete the illusion of a land before time. To the west, two conical mountains rose above the coastline, trailing plumes of smoke from their summits.

"Are those active volcanos?" asked Emily, fascinated.

"I believe they're called Tavurvur and Vulcan, after figures from mythology," said Jenkins. "They make a bit of noise from time to time, but experts agree there is no danger of an eruption."

"It still seems an unnecessary risk," said Emily. "Why don't the Germans move the capital somewhere else?"

"The only suitable alternative was Kokopo, and no one could tolerate the name."

The brunette flinched, appalled by the prospect. "I dare say."

Mooring operations went as smoothly in Rabaul as they'd gone awkwardly in Noumea, and soon Everett and his company were riding down the elevator of the mooring mast.

"We'll do the same drill this time," said the captain as they stepped onto the field. "Abercrombie, Rashid, and Pierre, you will investigate the harbor. Miss Sarah, if you could accompany them, your knowledge of this part of the world might prove valuable. Jenkins and Miss Emily, you will check the port records. Davies and I will pay our respects to the Governor, then check the records at the air station."

"I'm coming with you!" announced Clarice.

"Whatever for?" asked Everett, taken by surprise.

"You'll want help with those records. And I'm not letting you put one over on us, Captain Everett!"

The captain raised his eyebrows. The blond stared back at him defiantly. Everett reflected on the various measures, ranging from verbal reprimands to capital punishment, that the Royal Navy prescribed for dealing with civilian specialists, and decided that none seemed appropriate for this situation.

"Very well," he sighed.

The Germans had never really grasped the concept of exploiting the native populations of their Pacific colonies. They maintained their empire for prestige rather than commercial advantage, and spent far more money on administration than they could possibly recover in trade. As a result, Rabaul was as neat and trim as any village in Bavaria. But the population was decidedly non-European.

"There seem to be quite a few Japanese tourists here," observed Sarah as they made their way along the waterfront. "Whatever could have brought them here?"

"Perhaps they like the architecture," suggested Rashid, to whom Western styles were still a novelty.

"I dinnae ken why they should," said Abercrombie. "It's too clean and neat. There's no life in this place."

"It seems lacking in business opportunities," observed Pierre, "but these are not entirely absent. This fellow, for example, looks like a dealer in stolen goods."

"You have something for sale," said the man, glancing at Sarah.

"No," said Pierre, before the girl could reach for a weapon, "but we might be interested in buying information. There were two men: Karlov and Yakov..."

The man shrugged dismissively. "I knew this Yakov. He was nothing. But this Karlov... many people are looking for him."

The Frenchman reached into his pocket and passed the man a few bills. His informant inspected them, glanced around for eavesdroppers, and leaned forward.

"Associates of the Fat Man," he said in a low voice. "You should beware. They will know that you have been asking questions."

The Residence was an imposing structure, built from the finest materials, and decorated with impeccable taste. It was also entirely lacking in warmth, as if it had been designed by engineers rather than architects. The Governor was an older man, quite obviously a veteran of the War. His manner was reserved, as if he suspected his guest's motives. Everett, for his part, was unwilling to say anything substantial until he could be sure of his host's allegiance. The two men fenced for a time, exchanging empty platitudes, until chance provided an opening.

"You were at the Sommes?" asked the Governor, in response to some comment by Davies.

"Aye, with the Royal Navy Division at Ancre. They had a big push scheduled for November. Could have been nasty business. We were just getting ready to go over the top when they announced the Armistice."

The Governor shook his head in amazement. "My unit was stationed at Beaucourt! You might have been fighting us! It's good the Peace came when it did. And to think that some of these nationalists want to repudiate it. This `Deutsche Arbeiterpartei'... these `Steel Helms'..." His voice trailed off.

Everett studied the Governor's face and read sincerity in his eyes. This man's sympathies did not lie with their enemies. "We've been searching for an airship," he ventured, "one of your government packets that was taken by pirates. She was last seen north of Cairns, slightly more than a week ago."

"That would be the L-137," said the Governor. "A terrible outrage. I know something of this matter. We may share an acquaintance, Korvettencapitan Heinrich..."

Everett nodded in understanding. If the Governor was in communication with the head of German intelligence in this part of the Pacific, he could be trusted.

"They haven't called in Rabaul," continued the Governor. "If they had, they would have been apprehended instantly. But I can't guarantee that they didn't resupply at some hidden base here in Kaiser Wilhelmsland. These nationalists have many sympathizers here."

"We've learned of another vessel that might be involved in this affair," said Everett, "a freighter named the Inselmädchen, registered in Kwajelein"

The Governor's eyes lit up. "This could be a valuable lead! I do have a few men I can trust. I'll see what they can discover about the vessel. I have some information in return. We rounded up a cell of White Russian conspirators here in port. It may not have any bearing on this matter, but under interrogation, one of them revealed that they were trying to find something called the Trapezohedron. We've assumed this is some sort of code name, since it's hard to imagine why anyone would be interested in a simple geometric solid."

"Interesting," said Everett. "We encountered a Dutchman in Noumea who was looking for the same thing. I wonder what it could be."

Next week: I'm Afraid the Honeymoon is Over...

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