The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 111: Cannibals and Missionaries, or Vice Versa

Iverson, Sarah, and tennis ball

Afternoons in the New Hebrides were peaceful to the point of monotony. Captain Everett and Jenkins had Port Villa's single street almost entirely to themselves as they made their way back to the Flying Cloud. A few customers chatted idly with a shopkeeper, but otherwise the inhabitants of the town seemed content to sit in the shade and gaze at the harbor, or the airship that rode at the mooring mast to the west. In this sleepy tropical setting, she seemed like a visitor from another world.

"I hope the staff at the hydrogen plant are more industrious," said Jenkins.

"I wouldn't get my hopes up," Everett replied. "This particular station is not noted for its efficiency. I suppose this place might assume some significance in the unlikely event of some large-scale conflict in the Pacific, but otherwise it's something of a backwater. Anyone with the slightest shred of ambition contrives to get transferred elsewhere, leaving us with gentlemen such as our recent host." He nodded back towards the Commissioner's Residence.

"It's a pity the fellow was so vague," said Jenkins.

"True," said Everett. "But some of his information was food for thought. It appears that many of our players have been here before us. I wonder what they were after."

"This Russian who visited in April: do you think he's the same fellow Iverson met on Narau?"

"I imagine so. There can't be too many expatriate professors of archeology roaming about the South Pacific in War surplus blimps. And one cannot help but wonder about these apparent coincidences..."

"What should we do now, sir?"

Everett permitted himself a brief frown. "Everyone seems to know what's going on but us. This could become annoying. We need to gather enough information to remedy this situation. This will require some thought. Much will depend on the supply situation."

"We're down to 9,000 lbs of fuel and 70% hydrogen," Sarah announced. "The former shouldn't be a problem, since the port has ample stocks of Number 2 fuel oil, but their hydrogen plant can only produce 50,000 cubic feet per day."

"Does it meet German standards for purity?" asked Everett.

"Yes," said the island girl. "I have a copy of the test results here."

"That's something at least," said the captain, leafing through the report and doing some quick calculations in his head. "It appears we'll be here for at least two weeks. We should put this time to good use."

"What do you have in mind?" asked Miss Perkins, who'd been standing at one end of the control car, watching the proceedings like a reproving parent.

"We have two leads," observed Everett, "those war clubs you brought back from Sarah's Island and the information we obtained from the Commissioner. We'll send Iverson and Sarah into town posing as collectors to see what they can learn about the clubs. Meanwhile, we'll have Pierre make inquiries around the harbor about the German seamen and English packet that preceded us. Mister MacKiernan, do you believe our launch could make it to Espirtu Santo?"

"It's about a hundred mile passage," said the Irishman. "I'd estimate it would take approximately ten hours at cruising speed."

"That should serve," said Everett. "Have Iwamoto prepare the craft for a morning departure tomorrow. According the Almanac, some logging concerns maintain a small air station at Luganville. I want you to pay the place a visit and see if they know anything about this Russian. Take two men along in case you run into trouble."

"I will accompany them," Miss Perkins announced.

Everett and MacKiernan exchanged glances. The captain shrugged. "As you will."

No one in town could say where the war clubs came from, but several people mentioned a visiting couple from America -- a missionary and his wife -- who might. The two were somewhere in the interior, hoping to spread The Word, so Iverson and Sarah found themselves trekking into the hills to find them. It was another sultry day in the jungle. Moisture dripped from the trees and squelched underfoot. Iverson's Number Threes were soon clammy with sweat. Sarah seemed more comfortable in a light summer dress with practical sandals, a matching necklace, and a pair of elegant stone earrings that complemented her spear.

"It's good to be rid of that secretary!" said the island girl. "And I wouldn't be at all upset if she got seasick on the crossing."

"What do you have against her?" asked Iverson cautiously, aware that he was flirting with danger.

His companion scowled. "I don't like her superior attitude. And I can tell she doesn't approve of me. You can see it in the way she acts."

"I don't think Miss Perkins approves of anyone on the ship," Iverson observed.

Sarah opened her mouth to reply, then laughed. "You're right, John. I wonder why."

"Something in her past, I suppose," said the lieutenant. "But the woman's so secretive I doubt we'll ever... What the devil was that?"

From somewhere up ahead, they heard a sharp whack, like a club striking flesh, followed by a groan.

"It sounds like a fight," said Sarah.

"Listen! There it is again!"

Another whack echoed through the trees, followed by a cry of triumph.

"Do you think this has anything to do with those two missionaries?" asked Sarah.

"They are reputed to have come this way," said Iverson. "Perhaps they've incited an uprising by violating some tribal taboo."

The clamor ahead intensified: a grunt, a succession of whacks, and the sound of trampling feet. Voices bellowed in savage joy.

"This does not sound promising," said Iverson. "I wonder if it would be wise to continue."

"Aren't you curious?" asked Sarah. "Let's see what's happening." Without waiting for a reply, the girl hefted her spear and dashed up the trail. Iverson hurried after her, fumbling with his service revolver.

A brief jog brought them to a settlement, where a mob of islanders crowded around what appeared to be the village square. At one end of this space, a young missionary stood gasping for breath. His clothing was disheveled, his hair was in disarray, and his face was flushed with exhaustion. At the other end, a native warrior stood proud and tall. Sunlight gleamed from his muscular limbs, his shark's tooth necklace, the tennis racket he held in one hand. As Iverson and Sarah watched, he tossed a ball into the air, raised his racket, and brought it down in a vicious serve. There was a whack, a grunt, and the sound of a body hitting the ground as the missionary dove for the return, made it, and rolled back to his feet.

"Eyah Tualua!" cried the islander, replying with a quick shot cross-court to win the point.

"Game," announced the judge -- a tribal elder dressed as a shaman. The islanders cheered and surged forward to congratulate their champion while the missionary's shoulders sagged in defeat.

"I guess I don't get to preach today?" he said.

"No," said the shaman. "Today is our turn to preach to you. Have you considered the possibility that mankind was created by Elder Gods who filtered down from beyond the stars, created humanity as a sport or a joke, and will return again when the stars are right?"

"That's an 828, `Origins of Mortality', or perhaps a 471, `Bridge To Another World' on the Aarne Classification Scale," came a voice from beside them. They turned to see a young woman sitting beneath a tree taking notes.

"You wouldn't by chance happen to be Mrs. Cressman?" asked Iverson, remembering the names they'd been given back in town.

"Yes," said the woman, "but you can call me Maggie. That's my husband over there with the shaman. They made a deal: whichever side wins the day's game of tennis gets a chance to convert the other. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since Luther was on varsity at Columbia, but so far the score is two for the Lord and five for the Elder Gods." She sighed. "I told him we should have gone to Samoa instead. What brings you to our would-be mission? Are you glassmakers too?"

"Glassmakers?" asked Iverson.

Next week: Welcome to the Club...

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