The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 116: But Can They Make The Trains Run On Time?

Pierre and a souvenier

"Would anyone care for some tea?" asked Jenkins.

"After you, gentlemen," said Captain Everett, nodding to his companions. They'd gathered in the mess hall of the Flying Cloud, where he'd called a meeting to review what they'd discovered. Outside the windows, the scene shifted slowly, first one way then the other, as the vessel swung from her mooring. A small island schooner had just cleared the harbor and was standing out to sea. The captain studied it as his signalman filled the cups, then turned to address the room.

"We have several new clues," he observed. "I believe it's time to see if we can fit some together. Mister Iverson, would you care to summarize what you and Miss Sarah learned here on Efate?"

"It appears that the German nationalists visited this place early in June," said the lieutenant. "According to an American couple we met in the hills, they arrived by ship -- one imagines this was either the Duck or the Inselmëdchen -- and asked around the port about a `large airship' that sounds very much like our mysterious cruiser."

"This suggests they knew about the vessel long before it attacked us," said MacKiernan.

"I suppose we shouldn't be surprised," mused Everett. "There seems to be some connection between that craft and this one. I wonder what it is."

"There was also a party of Englishmen, sometime in May, who represented themselves as glassmakers," the lieutenant continued. "They were searching for a mineral that sounds suspiciously like uraninite."

Everett raised his eyebrows. "In May? That would have been before the Germans intercepted Karlov's shipment from Enterprise Creek. Those White Russians don't seem to have been particularly good at keeping secrets. I suppose we must assume that these people understand the mineral's significance. Do we have any idea who they were?"

"No, but it seems they were led by some gentleman traveling incognito."

"There was that gentleman back in Darwin who led the hijacking attempt," said Abercrombie. "Could this hae been the same fellow?"

"It's quite possible," mused Everett. "I don't imagine there are an unlimited number of mysterious English gentlemen roaming the Pacific searching for secret weapons designed by exiled Russian aristocrats. Did you learn anything else?"

"We found out where those war clubs came from. One of the Americans was an ethnographer. According to her, they were made by a tribe called the Yora who live on Espiritu Santo."

"We had an encounter with the fellows," said MacKiernen

"Can you describe the circumstances?" asked Everett.

"I'll try," said the Irishman, "but they're rather confusing." He paused for a moment to marshal his thoughts.

"It all began in Luganville when a party of ruffians kidnapped Miss Perkins and carried her off in a blimp belonging to the English logging concession."

Eyes widened around the table. "Really?" said Jenkins. "This isn't the sort of thing that happens every day."

"Aye," said MacKiernan, "and then things began to get strange. We tracked the kidnappers to a village in the highlands that belonged to a tribe called the Hapuna. Someone seems to have been organizing these fellows into a militia, for the men were wearing armbands with some strange insignia. It appears that the Yora are enemies of the Hapuna, for shortly after we arrived, some of their warriors attacked the place. We took advantage of the confusion to rescue Miss Perkins and escape in the blimp."

"Well done!" said Everett, heartened to know his men were upholding the traditions of the Royal Naval Airship Service. "Did you get a look at this insignia?"

The Irishman reached for a pad of paper and drew a quick sketch. "It was a blue circle, like this, divided by a white lighting bolt, all on a field of red."

"That looks oddly familiar," remarked Jenkins. He began to rummage through his satchel.

"A blue circle?" said Pierre. "This is very strange."

"You've encountered this emblem?" asked Everett.

"Not until recently, but while I was in Luganville, waiting for the Lieutenant-Commander's return, I found this."

The Frenchman reached into his jacket to produce an article of feminine apparel that had clearly never been intended to see the light of day. It was a wisp of crimson silk, embroidered with two lace emblems similar to the one MacKiernan had described, though circumstances of design dictated that they be spherical rather than round.

"Begorrah!" muttered MacKiernan. Around the table, several faces were turning red. But Captain Everett was made of sterner stuff.

"Was your informant able to tell you where this came from?" he asked.

"She was somewhat preoccupied," said the Frenchman, "but I gather it was gift from a suitor who belonged to an organization she called L'Union Angleterre. This would translate to something like 'The British Union'."

"So that's what they were talking about!" exclaimed Abercrombie. "Perhaps I should nae hae pitched them over the side."

"Pitched them over the side?" said MacKiernan innocently. The Scotsman frowned, reached into his pocket, and handed over a shilling. Everett watched this transaction with a sigh.

"Could you clarify this statement?" he asked. "Who were these fellows you `pitched'?"

"Four draghail mercenaries Loris and I met on the ferry to Eretoka. They called us `pirates from the British Union' so I had to set them straight."

"Of course!" said Jenkins. "That's where I saw it! Sir, you might wish to examine this copy of the Times I found back in Darwin."

The signalman produced a bundle of newsprint and unwrapped it to reveal an offset screwdriver, a spool of sailmaker's thread, and several small bottles of enamel. Setting these aside, he spread out the page so it could be read. It was dated sometime in the spring. Near the bottom, a blurry photograph showed a column of figures in quasi-military outfits parading behind a flag. The emblem was difficult to distinguish, but it appeared to be a circle divided by a jagged line. A smudged headline read, `British Union Holds Rally at Olympia'.

"Interesting," said Everett. "What is this organization?"

"It's some sort of nationalist group, founded by a minor member of Parliament. They appear to be inspired by the Fascist Revolutionary Party of that Mussolini chap, over in Italy. They claim that England was betrayed by the Peace when she was on the brink of victory."

"The brink of victory!" muttered Davies in amazement. "The fellows must be daft!" Other veterans at the table seemed to share his sentiments.

"Judging from this article, that seems to be the consensus in England as well," said Jenkins. "Perhaps that's why they're here in the Pacific. This area seems to have become a refuge for many of Europe's failures."

"It appears we've found a new player in this game," said Everett. "Miss Perkins, did your captors reveal anything that might shed light on their objectives or connections?"

The woman was silent for a moment, as if deciding how much she should reveal. "They wanted to know what become of your report," she said at last, "the one about this weapon the nationalists tested to such dramatic effect on Ujelang. So they can't be the people Lieutenant Blacker is working for, since we know he stole that report when he made off with the dispatches on the R-87."

"No he didn't," blurted Iverson without thinking.

"Yes?" said the secretary, in a voice like ice. "Please explain."

The lieutenant looked helplessly at his captain. Keeping his expression neutral, Everett called on that mysterious ability some captains have to project reassurance. Perhaps it worked.

"I needed to make some... ah... revisions to my portions of the report," said Iverson. He seemed to be hoping Miss Perkins wouldn't recognize the magnitude of this understatement. "I was on my way to return it when we encountered the fellow at his dirty work."

"So you broke into the stateroom of a superior officer and removed documents from an official dispatch case to make a set of unauthorized alterations in defiance of the regulations and procedures of the Royal Naval Airship Service?"

Iverson swallowed. "Uh... yes."

Miss Perkins smiled -- the smile of someone who has just drawn a winning card and sees no need to conceal this fact.


Next week: The Wisdom of the Solomons...

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