The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 165: What Are A Few Syllables Among Friends?

Ancient Egyptian airships

Lord and Lady Milbridge were studying a small-scale chart of the Pacific when Spencer approached. The airman was carrying a folder in one hand. As usual, he looked worried.

Lord Milbridge smiled. "You seem troubled, Mister Spencer. Surely the matter can't be all that serious."

Spencer reached into his folder and handed the viscount a list of figures. "I've been recording our fuel consumption since we left Port Douglas, sir," he said somberly. "It's significantly higher than we anticipated. I don't believe we can possibly reach our destination."

Lord Milbridge dismissed these concerns with a wave of his hand. "Then we'll have to find somewhere to refuel. Perhaps we can also find a more capable craft. Endearing as this one may be, I believe we've exhausted its charms."

Spencer glanced around the fishing boat as if trying to locate the charms to which the viscount referred, then shook his head in defeat. "Do you have some place in mind, sir?"

"What about this village here?" asked Lady Milbridge, pointing to the map. "It has the most engaging name."

The viscount read the legend over her shoulder, then consulted their copy of the Almanac. "Kirakira? That should serve. Mister Spencer, set a course for the Solomon Islands."

The approach to Kirakira took most of the next morning. They had no detailed charts of the local waters, so Lord Milbridge climbed the mast to con their vessel in while Spencer took the helm and tried not to think about rocks, coral reefs, and sunken wrecks. After they'd made fast to the quay, there was another delay while the Lord and his Lady stepped into the cabin to don shoregoing attire. There were, after all, standards to maintain.

The only other vessel in port was an ancient island schooner with stained topsides, frayed rigging, and peeling paint. One crewman was swabbing the deck, rearranging grime into artistic new patterns, while another worked listlessly at the pump. Lord Milbridge examined the craft with interest.

"What do you think, Atalanta?" he asked his wife.

"How colorful!" said the viscountess. She called out to one of the deckhands, "Westhap kapten bilong dispela sip?"

The islander stared at her in astonishment, then pointed toward what might have been a tavern. "Em go long dispela ba."

Lady Milbridge smiled. "Tenkyu!"

Spencer watched the exchange with some apprehension, fearing where it might lead. "When did your wife learn pidgin?" he whispered to the viscount.

"She's always had a good ear for languages."

The bar was little more than a thatched roof set atop a circle of wooden posts. Its only customer was a weathered-looking seaman who was staring morosely at the bottom of his glass. He looked up in suspicion as the party entered.

"Excuse me," asked Lord Milbridge, "would you happen to be the owner of that schooner outside?"

"What's it to you?" growled the man. "Are ye Customs officers?"

"Goodness, no! We were just wondering if the vessel might be for sale."

The man's eyes lit up. Apparently opportunities like this didn't come every day. "Aye!" he announced. "And except for a few leaky seams, the state of her canvas, and that bit of dry rot in the keel, she's as sound as the day she left the yard! What's yer offer?"

"We'll trade you a fine new fishing boat we brought from Australia. If you wish, we can also throw in a shark."

"Ye've got a deal!"

"Well," Milbridge told an appalled Captain Spencer, "that takes care of that. We'll see to the name, then we'll be off."

Kirakira, capital of San Cristobal Island, consisted of several bungalows, a warehouse, an assay office, a mooring mast, and a bar. Iverson studied the settlement as the Flying Cloud made her approach. Below them, a trim white fishing boat was heading out to sea. To the east, an ancient schooner could be seen near the horizon.

"Do you think we'll find the Professor here?" he asked Captain Everett.

"I have my doubts," Everett replied. "Some peculiar combination of circumstances seems to be conspiring against this eventuality. But we will make the attempt and hope for the best."

Mooring went smoothly and soon the airship was riding from the mast. Once again, Iverson found himself leading Sarah, Pierre, and Lieutenant Murdock in search of their quarry. He gave a speculative glance at the bar, concluded it was unlikely to have much information about a visiting scholar, and decided to try the assay office.

"How can I help you fellas?" asked the manager.

"You wouldn't happen to notice an archeologist about here recently?" asked Iverson.

"An `ar-kee-yaw-lo-gist'?" said the man. struggling over the unfamiliar word. "I believe we did get an ar-kee-something-or-other a few days ago."

Iverson brightened. Not many professions began with those particular syllables. "Do you happen to recall the man's name?"

"No," said the manager, "but he had a big book full of drawings. He headed up into the mountains the day after he arrived. One of the natives could show you the way."

"That sounds like our man!" Iverson exclaimed. "Let's make haste! There's no time to waste!"

Their guide led them south though the jungle along a trail that climbed into the hills. The trail seemed well-used -- it was obvious that some fairly substantial equipment had been brought this way in the recent past. Soon the party came to a clearing where a low stone building stood beneath the sky. The structure was cryptic, enigmatic, and in remarkably good condition. Several modern tools lay nearby.

"I wonder what it could have been," said Iverson. "It seems quite well-preserved for an ancient ruin from before the dawn of history."

Pierre ran his hand over the stones, then scratched his head in puzzlement. "Eet doesn't look like someone is digging it up," he observed. "It looks more like someone is putting it together."

"Hey, Mister S!" came a voice from the side, "we got visitors!"

They turned to see three men standing by the corner of the structure. One, obviously a workman, was setting a long bulky implement down behind the wall. The second was a well-dressed American with a Mediterranean cast to his features. The third carried a portfolio under one arm.

"Good afternoon," said Iverson. "I'm Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Navy Airship Service and these are my companions, Sarah, Pierre, and Lieutenant Murdock."

"Ciao signorina," said the second man, bowing to Sarah. "I am Tony, a businessman from America. I deal in beverages and entertainment."

"What brings you to San Cristobal?" asked the island girl, fascinated.

The American offered her a gracious smile. "Business was a little rough last year, so I decided it was time for a vacation. I'm building a house here."

"Was that a Thompson submachine gun your man was carrying?" asked Murdock, eyes wide with amazement.

The American laughed. "Ah, that Georgio. He likes to do some hunting."

Iverson indicated the stone structure. "I take it this will be the house."

"And it will be nothing but the best!" the American replied. "I brought a very great architect here to design it!"

"An... architect," said Iverson.

"Si!" said the American, gesturing toward the man with the portfolio. "Mister Iverson, Miss Sarah, meet my good friend Frankie."

The architect must have noticed Iverson's expression. "Is something wrong?" he asked.

"Not exactly," said the lieutenant, "but would you happen to have arrived on a blimp?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

Next week: Adventures in Viticulture...

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