The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 181: The Answer, My Friend, Is Singing In The Wind...

Four Windsongs

"We have the information from Cairns, sir," said Jenkins.

"If you would be so kind," said Everett.

The captain and his flight officers had met in the Flying Cloud's control car to discuss the latest development in their search for Lord Milbridge. Outside, sunlight sparkled on the waters of Leava's harbor. To the east, the motorship Iverson's party had discovered still lay alongside the wharf taking on cargo. A casual inquiry had sufficed to determine that the vessel was no longer owned by their quarry. Its past was another matter.

Jenkins reached into his satchel to produce a sheath of dispatch forms -- thse must have required considerable effort to decode -- and a set of sketches. He laid these out on the chart table. "Miss Perkins was able to identify no fewer than four vessels named Windsong," he reported. "For most of these, she was also able to determine dates of purchase and/or final sale. It appears that all these craft were associated with our errant viscount. The first was the Windsong V: a fishing boat of approximately twelve tons burden, originally registered in Port Douglas, Australia, under the name Emma. Lord Milbridge purchased the vessel on January 15th, shortly after we left Cairns, and sold her on the 25th in Kirakira."

"The 25th?" exclaimed MacKiernan. "We must have just missed them!"

"The coincidences grow more distressing, as you will discover," said Jenkins. "While he was on San Cristobal, the viscount purchased an old island schooner, which he renamed the Windsong VI. This vessel was sufficiently anonymous that her movements are difficult to trace, but she turned up as salvage on a beach in Porto Villa sometime around the first of February."

Everett reached for the logbook to check the date of their own visit, then sighed. He knew what it would tell him. "I assume this is where our Windsong VII appears?" he said.

"Yes. She is a 1500 ton motorship, built in the south of England before the War, powered by an Acroyd-Stuart engine of considerable antiquity. When Lord Milbridge purchased the vessel, she was called..." the signalman frowned, "...the Atoll Maiden."

"I suppose we must be grateful that he changed the name," grumbled MacKiernan.

"I daresay," said Jenkins, "but it is difficult not to be frustrated by the viscount's timing and itinerary. He left Porto Villa on the day we arrived and set a course to the north. While we were investigating the Samoas, he was making his way to Futuna."

Everett hid his exasperation. "I suppose we should have expected as much," he observed. "I imagine he reached Leava shortly after we lifted ship."

"On the 5th, or so it would appear," said Jenkins. "This motorship doesn't seem to have possessed any particular turn of speed. Whether for this reason or another, Lord Milbridge sold the craft here in Leava and purchased a steamship, which he renamed the Windsong VIII. He departed the next day."

"An' now you'll be tellin' me he headed for Tuvalu," said MacKiernan, lapsing into brogue as his frustration mounted.

"I'm afraid so," said Jenkins. "According to the records Miss Stewart obtained from Pago Pago, he called there on the 12th of February, then departed on the 13th for parts unknown."

As an airship captain, Everett had learned patience. This seemed like a good time to apply these lessons. "Well, at least now we know to look for a vessel named Windsong," he observed philosophically.

"Or vessels," said Jenkins. "We have no idea how much more shipping the viscount may have renamed by now. By accident or design, he seems to be muddying his trail."

"You raise a good point," said Everett. "Our only substantial remaining lead may be Lord Milbridge's presumed interest in Professor Otkupshchikov. What can we say about the archaeologist and his blimp?"

"We know the Professor left Aunu'u on the 6th," said Jenkins. "But a Coastal Class does not have unlimited range. Even if he's fitted a more economical engine, our professor will need to refuel and regas after a day or two of cruising. Diesel or petrol he can obtain almost anywhere. Hydrogen is another matter. For that, he'll need a generating plant and suitable supplies."

"You think he'll be using the Lane Process?" said Iverson.

"I imagine so," said Everett. "The alternatives involve chemicals it might be difficult to obtain in the necessary volume here in the islands. We will want to examine the shipping records for any large cargos of iron filings."

"Once again, Miss Perkins has anticipated us," said Jenkins. "According to her, there were two such, of several tons each. One was delivered to a destination on Wallis Island. The other was delivered to Narau."

MacKiernan unrolled their small-scale chart of the Pacific and muttered an imprecation. "An diabhal. They're 1400 miles apart. Which should we try first?"

Everett studied the two islands for a moment, then shrugged. "We'll begin with Wallis. It's closer."

"This," said Lady Warfield, "is not acceptable."

Bludge kept his expression neutral. He knew, all too well, how dangerous the baroness could be when she was in this mood. "I quite agree," he said carefully. "The failure was entirely mine. I shall endeavor to correct my oversight."

At the other end of the salon, Lord Warfield put down his novel -- a copy of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra -- and smiled. "Don't be too hard on the man," he told his wife. "Who could have imagined that the Professor really would show up on Aunu'u."

It was not a reassuring smile.

"And to think we just missed him," said the baroness. "If we'd arrived just a few moments earlier, all of our problems would have been solved."

"Not all of our problems," said the baron. "And we did learn some useful information from this exercise. Among other things, we've established that our quarry is not aboard that Royal Navy airship. The viscount must have obtained a vessel of his own. Knowing his habits, this should be easy to identify."

The baroness examined a fingernail, as if inspecting the edge. "Perhaps," she admitted, "but what was Everett doing here in American Samoa, what was our agent up to, and where is Lord Milbridge now?"

"I imagine we'll find Milbridge when we locate the Professor. Bludge, were you able to identify any likely shipments of iron filings?"

The butler relaxed, very slightly. It seemed the worst of the danger was past. "It appears there were two," he replied, allowing no trace of relief to enter his voice. "One was to Wallis Island and the other was to Narau."

"Which one shall we chose?' mused Lord Warfield.

His lady smiled -- the smile of a huntress. "Let's try Wallis. It's closer."

Next week: Poles Apart...

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