The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 96: Varieties of Seamanship

The proa

Captain Everett sat in his cabin, studying the ship's log. Instinct told him that matters were approaching a climax, but he didn't have the slightest idea what form this might take. What were the nationalists up to? And what was the nature of this mysterious Device? The elaborate web of conspiracies surrounding the thing suggested it was more than an ordinary weapon, but what could possibly be so important? It seemed the answers were to be found on Ujelang. This was a problem they could address. Uncapping his pen, he began an entry.

'7-September-1926, 2200 hours, Lat 165� 40' E, Long 10� 03' N, His Majesty's Airship Flying Cloud, R-505, Captain Roland P. Everett cmdr. Recovered Bikini party 2112 hours along with prisoner, Agent White. Ensign Jenkins rpts White planned to betray them to the nationalists, but was thwarted by Civilian Specialist Wilcox's quick thinking and imaginative use of indigenous fruit. Jenkins also rpts the nationalists have established a base on Ujelang. Their defenses sound formidable, but I have a plan that should

A soft knock sounded outside his cabin. "Yes," he said, setting the pen aside.

He looked up to see Sarah standing in the doorway. The island girl was dressed in one of the neatly-tailored outfits she'd adopted in lieu of a uniform. Her expression was determined, as if she'd reached some sort of decision.

"Miss Sarah," he said politely. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I have finished mourning," she announced. "I'm ready to return to my duties."

Everett glanced into the corridor to make sure they wouldn't be overheard, then gestured for the girl to take a seat. "Are you sure of your motives?" he asked gently. "I understand your loss, but we are not on a mission of retribution. We still have no clear idea what is at stake. It's possible we might confront the parties responsible for Lieutenant Iverson's death under circumstances that compel us to cooperate with them against some third party. I have also learned, to my sorrow, that revenge has its costs."

"I know," said Sarah. "Notariello told me the same thing."

Everett raised his eyebrows. "The Italian said that?"

"Yes," Sarah replied, "and it is not a price I'm willing to pay. But I have to see this thing through."

Everett studied the girl's face, trying to judge her resolve. She met his gaze unflinchingly. At last he nodded.

"Very well. Welcome back, Miss Sarah! We may have a mission that requires your special skills."

"Oof!" exclaimed Davies, as a dollop of spray caught him in the face.

"Trim!" cried Sarah. "And hike out harder! Now!"

Abercrombie hauled on the mainsheet and Everett leaned back along the outrigger as the proa accelerated down the face of a wave. Twin lines of spray curled back from the vessel's prow, drumming against the sail. At the steering paddle, Sarah shouted with glee.

"What a great day!"

Everett had to agree. It had been many years since he'd held the tiller of small sailboat, but he remembered what it was like to feel the craft come alive in his hands. He smiled, remembering a more innocent age, when the world was young and anything seemed possible. Davies seemed less enthusiastic.

"Could you explain to me again, sir, why this is absolutely necessary?" asked the marine.

It was a reasonable question. They'd purchased the proa on a small island with the unlikely name of Wotho, loaded it aboard the Flying Cloud, and flown it to a position some distance southeast of Ujelang. Now they were heading north on a starboard tack, miles from the nearest land.

"Agent White will almost certainly have betrayed our presence to the nationalists," Everett explained. "They'll be watching out for our motor launch, so we'll use their expectations against them. They can't possibly stop and investigate every canoe that sails these waters."

"Won't they intercept anyone who tries to land?" asked Davies.

"We'll leave the island to the west for now," said Everett. "After sunset, we'll bear up on the opposite tack and approach the place under cover of night. The moon won't rise for six hours. Our adversaries will never expect us to negotiate the breakers, thread our way through an unknown passage in the reef, and land in pitch darkness."

The marine also seemed dubious about this prospect. He glanced at Jenkins for support, but the signalman shrugged as if to say that this sort of performance was to be expected of officers in the Royal Naval Airship Service. Beside them, Abercrombie's dour face twisted into a smile as their craft lifted to another swell.

In the bow, Notariello began to sing.

They negotiated the entrance to the lagoon without disaster. Inside, the surf gave way to gentle ripples that lapped against the hull as they skimmed through the night. Everett navigated by starlight, taking bearings on the silhouettes of the surrounding islands. As they passed tiny Daisu islet, they lowered the mast and continued under paddles. With no moonlight to give them away, their low craft would be almost invisible.

Ujelang was a long low sliver of land to the south. Lights gleamed from the western end. As they drew closer, they could make out a jetty, where a powerful-looking motor launch lay ready for sea. Beyond this, the long bulk of a moored airship was dark against the sky.

"I'd say that looks rather promising," observed Jenkins.

"It does suggest we've come to the right place," said Everett.

"What are your plans, sir?" asked Davies.

The captain rested his paddle as he studied the distant lights. "This is a more substantial establishment than I'd anticipated. I'd intended to investigate the place at night, but it would be poor form to blunder about in the darkness when we have no idea how many guards they have. We'll put ashore at the other end of the island, find a place to hide the canoe, and get some sleep. Come morning, we'll spy out the lay of the land."

Dawn arrived with tropical swiftness. Shadows resolved themselves into palm trees, a line of beach, and the remains of a hut, abandoned after the nationalists had evacuated the local population. As the voyagers were breaking their fast, an unfamiliar bugle call sounded from the east.

"That would be the German version of Reveille," said Jenkins.

"These fellows don't seem to be making much attempt to conceal their presence," remarked Davies.

"Aye," said Abercrombie with a grin. "Wi' luck they'll be overconfident."

"I say," remarked Sarah, who'd been going over the ground to erase every sign of their camp. "It looks like someone else hid a canoe here."

Everett shrugged. "I imagine it was left by some of the natives. It can't have anything to do with us. Let's see what these fellows are about."

With Sarah in the lead, they set off through the forest. The island girl carried her spear, and the others bore service revolvers, but they were trusting to stealth rather than force of arms, for they were almost certain to be outnumbered if it came to a fight. Fortunately, the forest offered plenty of scope for concealment, and they had little fear of discovery.

Some distance west of the nationalist's main encampment, a low tower rose above the forest. This seemed like a good place to investigate first. A short march brought them to a clearing where someone had hacked down and dragged away a circle of trees. A squat concrete blockhouse stood in the center guarded by two bored-looking sentries. The tower rose above it, silent and enigmatic.

"Whatever could it be?" whispered Jenkins.

Everett had been wondering the same thing. The structure was too low to serve as a watchtower or a mooring mast. "It might be some manner of observation post," he mused, "for birdwatchers or other folk of that sort. I doubt it's important."

They heard a sharp intake of breath behind them. Everett turned to see Notariello gazing at the blockhouse with wide shining eyes. For a moment, he feared the man would burst into song.

"That is it!" the tenor announced. "I recognize it from their map! That is where they have hidden the Instruments of Joy!"

Next week: The Instrument...

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