The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 195: Deus Ex Mahina

The 'Salgari' descending on the 'Make a Good Fist'

Outside the cell, the guard's footsteps faded into the distance. After the man was gone, Captain Everett glanced at Jenkins and indicated the door.

"I'll see to it at once, sir," said Jenkins.

"If you'd be so kind," replied Everett. Then he turned to the cell's other occupant -- a young Englishman in worn field clothing -- and made his introductions. "Good day," he said politely. "I am Captain Roland P. Everett, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is my aide, Jenkins. You would be one of the Calhoun twins: either Michael or Digby."

The youth stared at him in surprise. "You're quite right: I'm Michael. How do you happen to know of us?"

"I was acquainted with your late father, before his misfortune," said Everett. "Indeed, he was the one who introduced me to... well, I don't suppose we need to discuss this at the moment. I assume you and your brother are the two Englishmen who've been seen in the company of these so-called Sky Pirates of Tahiti. May I ask how you came to be traveling with these colorful characters? I cannot but suspect this has some connection with our present circumstances."

The young man nodded. "After Father's disgrace, my brother and I left England to join the French Foreign Legion. It seemed the appropriate gesture -- we even chose this for the alias under which we enlisted."

Everett sighed. "I can understand the impulse. Under other circumstances..." he shook his head at his own foolishness. "What was life like in the Legion Etrangere?"

"It was a bit of a lark at first," said Michael. "Training was a piece of cake -- rifle drills, fatigues, fifty mile forced marches in the desert -- nothing we weren't used to from childhood. Father always thought a boy's character could be judged by his skill as a marksman and the weight of his pack. Then we were posted to North Africa. This wasn't quite the adventure we anticipated..." his voice trailed off.

"It doesn't profit us to dwell on such things," Everett said gently. "Did you stay in touch with your acquaintances back in England?"

The youth smiled. "The Legion tries to discourage such things, but Digby and I found ways around the rules. Our old schoolmates were avid for tales of the desert. We sent them a fictionalized account of our experiences. And then there was Miss Elmsford. I imagine you are aware of her situation."

"I am," said Everett. "She was fortunate to have companions her own age in her new home. I gather the three of you were close."

Michael glanced at the captain. "I understand your meaning. And I suppose Digby and I were both competing for her affection. We worried about her, for we feared Baron Warfield might have designs on her fortune. We hoped Lord Milbridge could protect her, but then we received word that the Milbridges had left for the Pacific and the Warfields had followed in pursuit."

"This news would have come from your younger brother," said Jenkins.

"You know about him?" said Michael in surprise.

"His birth was a matter of public record," observed the signalman, "and from your story, it's easy to guess his whereabouts."

Michael nodded. "Digby and I decided we had to warn the viscount, so we deserted -- this seems to be traditional practice in the Legion -- and set out after him. We made it as far as Malta, but couldn't find a ship to take us any further. We were at our wits' end when we met Vincenzo."

"What's his interest in the matter?" asked Everett. "How did you persuade him to take you aboard?"

"We offered him the viscount's yacht."

The captain raised his eyebrows. "The Windsong IV?"

Michael gave a helpless shrug. "We didn't have any other way to pay him. And the fellow did claim to be a pirate. Since then, I've begun to wonder. For all his talk of plunder, I suspect Vincenzo is something of a romantic. After Lord Milbridge eluded us over Australia, he set his sights on the Warfields. This quarry seems more to his taste. But it's all turned into a muddle. Our only solace is that Isobel is safely far away."

"I'm afraid that might not be the case," said Everett. "We have reason to believe she may be here on Tahiti with her governess, Miss Stewart."

"But Miss Stewart is Warfield's agent!" exclaimed Michael "The baron must be behind this! We have to escape!"

"A wise plan," said Everett. "Jenkins?"

The signalman had been examining the cell's lock with a hand mirror. "It's a Jackson," he reported. "Excellent craftsmanship, but I'm familiar with the design, so it shouldn't pose any particular challenge."

Michael raised an eyebrow as the signalman produced a pick and torque bar from one of his sleeves. "Is this standard practice in the Royal Navy Airship Service?"

Everett shrugged. "The Signal Corps has its own traditions."

A short time later, the three men were creeping up a companionway that led to the deck. At the top, Everett eased open the hatch and peered through the crack.

"Unfortunate," he observed. "We appear to have company."

When they'd boarded the yacht, the vessel had been empty. Now, dozens of crewmen were busy with mops, buckets, and polishing cloths, making things ready for their masters' return.

"What shall we do now, sir?" asked Jenkins.

"They may be too numerous for us to overpower," Everett observed. "We'll have find some way to sneak past them. It would help if we had a distraction."

"Would that serve?" asked Jenkins.

Outside, the crew stopped what they were doing and turned to stare north, in the direction of Mahina. Everett followed their gaze to see a graceful airship, Italian by her lines, gliding down out of the sun. A remarkable flag fluttered beneath the vessel's control car.

"It might," he said.

"What's happening?" asked Michael, who couldn't see anything from behind them.

"I imagine we're being rescued."

Lieutenant Murdock had skirted the village of Taravao to wait by the marae. He'd done his best to stay awake, but he was young, subject to the frailties of youth, and it had been a long day. He woke to see a kindly face gazing down at him.

"Excuse me," said the stranger. "I apologize for disturbing your nap, but would you by any chance have noticed a middle-aged Russian archeologist recently?

"What? Where? Who?" spluttered Murdock as he leapt to his feet. Then he remembered his manners. "Lieutenant Murdock, Royal Navy Airship Service."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance," the stranger said politely. "I'm Viscount Milbridge, and this is my captain, Spencer.

"Lord Milbridge!"

The viscount raised an eyebrow. "Have we met?"

"We've been looking for you! I... we... that is... the Captain..."

Lord Milbridge held up his hand. "Perhaps you'd better explain from the beginning."

The trail to Taravao had forked as it approached the coast. The left branch led to the village while the right led to an uninteresting pile of rocks. Bludge had chosen the former. When he reached the settlement, he found that its inhabitants knew nothing of any visiting Italians. An aging beachcomber suggested he try Mahina.

"There's a big resort there. That's where all the tourists go."

Bludge was not an imaginative man -- this quality was not encouraged in the service of the baron -- but he did take initiative when this was required. He decided to follow the man's advice. This seemed more constructive than waiting around Taravao in hope some quarry would show up. The route to Mahina proved little-traveled. Except for one middle-aged gentleman with an eastern European cast of his features, there didn't seem to be anyone else on the road. Then, as the butler was wondering whether to turn back, he spotted a familiar figure ahead.

"Miss Isobel Elmsford," he said politely. "I was not aware you were in the Pacific. The baron will be pleased to meet you."

The girl started in surprise, then turned to glare at him. "Bludge!" she scolded. "You presume! What if I don't want to meet the baron?"

"That is not for me to say," replied Bludge, scooping the girl up under one arm. "I suggest you take it up with the Master." He stood for a moment, ignoring her struggles as he contemplated the trail. After some thought, he decided to press on to Mahina. Perhaps he could collect more prizes along the way.

Next week: Buccaneers of the Skyways...

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