The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 172: You Mean There's More Than One?

Chart fo the Samoas

Lieutenant Murdock seemed barely able to contain his triumph. "I've found the Professor!" he announced gleefully. "According to my informant, he'll call at Samoa sometime between the 9th and the 11th of this month."

"Good work, lad!" exclaimed MacKiernan. "Would that be Western Samoa or American Samoa?"

Murdock's face fell. "Is there a difference?"

"I'm afraid so," Everett replied gently. "The first is a German colony consisting of two islands, Upolo and Savai'i, separated by the Apolima Strait. The second is an unincorporated territory of the United States, which includes their naval station on Tutuila and several smaller islands to the east. The latter are sufficiently minor that I believe we can discount them, but that still leaves us with three different places to investigate."

"Oh," said the lieutenant.

Everett smiled. "Don't worry, Mister Murdock. Confusions of this sort are inevitable in the South Pacific. I'm still not certain why New Ireland and New Britain are right next to the Bismarck Sea. Jenkins, could you hand me that large-scale chart of the Samoas?"

"Here, sir."

They were sitting in the Flying Cloud's mess hall, where they'd taken advantage of their passengers' absence to discuss Murdock's discovery. The two ladies had insisted on revisiting Leava to perform some activity they called `shopping'. Iverson had been detailed to escort them. No one envied him.

"This is valuable information," Everett observed, "but we need to decide how to use it. We can't possibly search all three islands from the ship in such a limited period of time, so we'll have to land parties to investigate two of them while we visit the third. The question becomes whom to land and where."

"Professor Otkupshchikov is an archeologist," noted Jenkins. "He might well be looking for new sites to study. But Upolo and Tutuila are the capitals of their respective colonies, so they must have been explored already. This suggests we should concentrate on Savai'i."

MacKiernan frowned. "According to the Almanac, the place doesn't have much of an air station. And we'll need resupply by the time we get there."

"Then that will dictate our plan of action," Everett decided. "We'll land parties on Savai'i and Tutuila and fly the ship to the German air station in Apia. I believe Iverson, Pierre, and Miss Sarah will be our best choice to investigate Savai'i. Mister Iverson has gained some experience in this sort of thing, Pierre should be able to handle any detective work that may be required, and we can trust Miss Sarah to keep them out of trouble."

"Who do you have in mind for Tutuila?" asked Jenkins after the chuckles had subsided.

"I don't want to denude the ship of personnel," said Everett, "so we'll prevail upon the British commercial agent there to make inquiries on our behalf. Mister Murdock can contact the fellow. If we're fortunate, Miss Isobel and Miss Stewart will wish to go ashore as well, which will provide him with some cover. Lieutenant, I trust you're up to the mission."

"Aye, sir," said Murdock. His expression suggested he had some doubts about this particular usage of the term `fortunate'.

"Very good. I'll leave you and Mister MacKiernan here to plan the sortie while Jenkins and I visit the radio shack see if there's any word from Cairns."

"You seem thoughtful, sir," said Jenkins as they made their way forward.

"That I am," Everett admitted. "One cannot help but wonder about the ease with which we acquired this information about the Professor's itinerary."

"Do you think it could be a trap?" asked the signalman.

"I would," said Everett, "if I could imagine who might have set such a thing and what their motive could be. But the White Russians are accounted for and I can't think of any plausible reason why the Fat Man or the Governor of Sarah's island would take an interest in some eccentric English nobleman."

"What about the British Union?"

Everett shook his head. "They've all been chased back to England with their tails between their legs, except for this Mister Fuller, who is almost certainly busy searching for more impractical machinery to experiment with."

"What about these hypothetical..." Jenkins sighed, "...airship pirates?"

"It's difficult to see how they could have managed the thing. No strange vessels have been reported in this area, and how would they have known to plant an agent on Futuna? We didn't decide to come here until we reached Noumea, and we never broadcast our intentions to Cairns."

Jenkins nodded. "It is a puzzle, sir."

Lieutenant Murdock sat in the mess hall, pouring over charts and performance figures. The exec had given him another navigation problem -- plot the most economical way to land parties on the three major Samoan islands -- and he was finding it heavy going. Would it be better to start at Tutuila and let the trade wind carry them westward or work their way upwind from Savai'i? And what was the best time for the operation? If they offloaded personnel in the morning, as the day was growing warmer, they'd have to valve off hydrogen to compensate. But if they waited until evening, they might run out of light.

He heard a giggle, and looked over to see that Isobel had sat down next to him. Her smile was bright, her hair shimmered in the sun, and her light blue cotton dress clung to things he'd never even imagined back at the naval college.

"Hello, Mister Murdock, see what we found in Leava! Aren't they wonderful?" She leaned forward to pick up her shopping basket, giving the lieutenant a breathtaking lesson in spherical trigonometry, and began to spread its contents on the table: bracelets, beads, and what looked for all the world like a miniature pair of tennis rackets. He was still struggling to collect his wits when the girl caught sight of the charts.

"What's that?" she asked innocently.

"Uh... er..."

"Oh look, it's a map of an island! Is this its name? Tutuila? It sounds like some kind of flower. Does it have buried treasure? Do you think there will be pirates? I've always wanted to see some, ever since I read Treasure Island! I thought Jim was very brave when he hid in the apple barrel! Do you think Long John Silver escaped in the end?"

"I... uh..." said Murdock, doing his best not to look at things he shouldn't. Nothing in his experience had prepared him to deal with such a barrage of artless chatter.

A stern voice sounded behind them. "Miss Isobel, there you are! I've been looking all over the ship for you. You should know better than to talk to the airmen. Off with you now, back to your stateroom!"

They turned to see Miss Stewart standing with her hands on her hips. Before Isobel could protest, the governess had ushered her out of the mess hall, closed the hatch, and returned to glare at the lieutenant.

"So, Mister Murdock," she said sternly, "what do you have say for yourself, taking advantage of a lady like that?"

"Advantage?" he said in surprise. "I'm not sure I understand what you..."

"Don't play coy with me, mister," she snapped, "I saw the way you were looking at her. You naval officers think you can use your position to beguile innocent young women, but I'm onto your tricks." The governess leaned forward to scowl, giving him another lesson in the geometry of spheres. She was, if anything, even more instructive than her charge. He thought frantically, trying to decide whether it would be more polite to meet her gaze or look away.

"You should get back to these... charts," the governess said dismissively, as if nautical cartography represented some severe form of character flaw. "And what is this? A map of some place called Tutuila? What kind of name is that?"

Next week: Please, Sir, Can I Have Samoa?...

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