The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 113: A Fine Day For An Outing

Map of Espiritu Santo

MacKiernan shaded his eyes and muttered an old Irish curse. "Is fuath liom é nuair a dhéanann siad a!"

Pierre nodded in assent. "Ça craint, beaucoup!"

"What should we do now, sir?" asked Rashid.

This was a good question. The three men were standing in what passed for a street in Luganville, gazing toward the mountains, where the marauding blimp was vanishing into the distance with Miss Perkins aboard.

"Perhaps we should just let them keep her," suggested Pierre. Beside him, Rashid seemed to brighten. MacKiernan thought this over, then shook his head regretfully.

"No," he announced. "We'll have to rescue the naimhdeach colleen. If we don't, she'll find some way to escape on her own and there will be the devil to pay."

"I take it the woman they abducted is a friend of yours?" came a voice from beside them. They turned to see that the missionary they'd met in the bar had followed them outside.

"Not exactly," said MacKiernan. "But she was placed in our charge. And the Royal Naval Airship Service makes it a matter of principle not to let renegade lumberjacks kidnap our secretaries. I don't believe we've been introduced. I'm Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, First Officer of The Flying Cloud, His Majesty's Airship R-505, and these are my companions, Civilian Specialist Pierre and Airman Rashid."

"I'm Father Harland, from Henryville, Illinois. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Do you have any idea where those fellows might be headed? They must have a field hidden somewhere on the island. Those logging blimps don't have much range."

The missionary thought this over. "No," he said at last, "but I know some people who might."

"Who are these tribesmen of yours?" asked MacKiernan early the next morning. They'd ridden the launch up the west coast of Espiritu Santo to the village of Wusi. There they'd gone ashore while Pierre took the craft north to draw the attention of any observers. Now they were making their way up the watershed of the Vakola River, past the thin strip of plantations that lined the coast, into the highlands of the Cumberland Range.

"They're the people of Western Deld," said Father Harland. "They seem to know most of what's happening in this part of the New Hebrides."

"That's a rather peculiar name," said the Irishman. "Where did it come from? And where is Eastern Deld?"

"No one knows," said Father Harland. "It's one of the mysteries of the islands. But that's where I have my mission."

"What prompted you to become a man of the cloth?"

"My mother was a devout Presbyterian. She filled us all with stories about missionaries bringing the Word to the heathen islands. After the Peace, I thought I'd head to the South Pacific and follow in their footsteps. I never dreamed so many others had the same idea."

MacKiernan nodded. During his tour of the South Pacific, he'd noted that in some places, the missionaries seemed to outnumber the native population. "Have you made many converts?"

The missionary seemed uncomfortable with this question. "Um... er..."

"Have you made any converts at all?"

"Here's the village now!"

The people of Western Deld seemed unusually self-possessed, as if they were privy to some secret they felt no need to share. Many wore amulets of some white material -- possibly whalebone or shell -- on cords around their necks. These, explained the missionary, were emblems of one of their gods.

"Welcome, Makuakane Harland!" said the headman. "It is good to see you again. And your friends are welcome too."

"These are MacKiernan and Rashid, visitors from a distant land," said the missionary. "They are searching for a companion who was kidnapped by the cutters of timber aboard one of their great sky-boats."

"Great sky-boat," mused the islander. "Would this happen to be an SS Maurice Farman class non-rigid dirigible modified for commercial use by the installation of a hoist and the replacement of the original air-cooled Renault engine with a Rolls Royce Hawk water-cooled inline six mounted in a tractor configuration?"

"I believe so," said MacKiernan, "though this might have been the variant manufactured under license by Brazil Straker."

The headman nodded. "We have seen this vessel. It belongs to the Pacific Albion Hardwood Company. Yesterday they flew it to a field on the other side of Mount Tabwemasana, in the land of the Hapuna." He laughed. "They think this place a secret, but our god can open windows into a universe of knowledge."

The missionary frowned, clearly annoyed at this mention of a rival deity. "Can you take us there?"

"Of course, Makuakane. I will send one of our warriors to guide you. But it could be dangerous. This place lies near the border between the Hapuna and the Yora, and there is bad blood between those tribes."

Their guide was a young warrior named Alaka. He led them along hidden trails through the mountains, and by late afternoon, they'd reached their destination. It was an unprepossessing settlement of grass huts surrounded by a wasteland of stumps where the loggers had been at work. To the east, a small blimp with an external control car was tethered to a temporary mast. MacKiernan studied the place through binoculars.

"That's our vessel," he announced. "But there's a sizable group of native warriors standing guard. They're wearing some sort of armbands, as if someone's organized them into a militia."

"Do you see any sign of your secretary?" asked Father Harland.

"No," said MacKiernan, "but I can see more guards posted next to a hut on the southeastern side of the village. I believe we should give this a closer look."

The approach posed no problems, for the loggers had left plenty of waste that could serve as cover. A few minutes work brought them to the edge of a field of cabbages that bordered the settlement. From here they had a clear view of the guards -- two brawny warriors carrying clubs and wearing more of the unfamiliar armbands. The design was unimaginative: a blue circle bisected by a white lightning bolt on a field of red. Soon they heard a strident voice from inside the hut.

"This is quite unacceptable! Bring back another serving, and don't let this one get cold!"

The door swung open and a harried-looking guard emerged carrying a toast rack. He gave a furtive glance over his shoulder, then scurried away while his companions looked on in sympathy.

"I believe," said Rashid, "that we've found Miss Perkins."

"Yes," sighed MacKiernan. "And they don't seem to be watching her too closely. Perhaps they're hoping she'll escape."

"What now?" asked Alaka.

"We'll wait until the Hapuna have retired for the night, then we'll sneak in and rescue her."

"What about the Englishmen?" asked Father Harland.

MacKiernan shrugged. "They're lumberjacks. I'm sure they sleep all night and work all day."

They turned to make their way back to the jungle, but at that moment, Alaka called out a warning.

"Beware! To the southwest! A party of warriors emerges from the brush!"

"The Yora!" said Father Harland. "I recognize those clubs! It must be a raiding party."

Others had seen the warriors too, for cries were coming from the north, where the Hapuna were seizing weapons and rushing to the defense of their village.

"They're getting ready to fight," said the missionary.

"So I've noticed," said MacKiernan.

"And we're standing right between them."

"I've noticed that too."

"What should we do?"

"Improvise!" cried the Irishman. Leaping to his feet, he dashed past the assembling villagers to the hut where Miss Perkins was imprisoned. The sentries had abandoned it to join their companions. Kicking down the flimsy door, he ducked inside to find the secretary glaring at him with her hands on her hips.

"Mister MacKiernan!" she said. "What took you so long?"

"I'm afraid there's no time to explain," he replied. Ignoring the woman's protests, he swung her over his shoulder and dashed back outside.

"To the blimp!" he cried. "If we're lucky, the guards will all have gone to join the fight!"

Next week: The Espiritu Santo Air Races...

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