The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 268: Two Paths Diverged

Chart with plots

The two ships had flown together down `Hydrogen Sound', the famous airship route that lead north through the Solomons. Behind them, several local blimps plodded between the islands on various blimp-like errands. Ahead, open ocean stretched toward the Philippines, China, and Japan. Captain Everett stood at the head of the control car, watching the Philadelphian disappear into the distance. From this angle, the American vessel seemed fragile and vulnerable.

Beside him, MacKiernan stirred uncomfortably. "I'm not happy about letting them head off like that," the Irishman announced. "The fellows behind yesterday's attacks may believe that Cartwell duine uasal is working with us. This could lead to trouble."

Everett allowed himself a sigh. He wasn't happy about the situation either. "We can hardly shadow them," he replied. "It would be difficult to reconcile this with our orders, and it would only suggest a possible connection."

"Do you think the Americans are in danger?" asked Sarah.

"It's difficult to say," Everett mused. "So far, the players in this game have exercised restraint, as if they're trying not at attract notice. As long as Mister Cartwell doesn't tread on too many toes, they might decide to leave him alone."

"Perhaps that's the answer, sir," suggested Jenkins. "If we abandon discretion ourselves, and make little attempt to hide our next series of inquiries, we might be able draw attention away from them."

Everett brightened. "That could serve. At very least, it could give our opponents a false sense of security."

Iverson and Sarah made their way aft, ducking to pass beneath some awkwardly placed girders at one of the frame junctions. Around them, the rush of wind against the hull fabric blended with the thrum of the ship's three faithful diesels. As they reached the hatch that led to the crew section, Sarah glanced back at her companion.

"This whole business has become rather confusing," she told him. "What do you think it's all about?"

"It seems straightforward enough," Iverson observed. "Some unknown party planted a bomb in an unused section of the Cairns Royal Air Station, for reasons that remain to be determined. In the aftermath of the explosion, Michaelson's men discovered this Korean woman, Kim, lying unconscious near the scene. She later managed to escape from the Station's infirmary and stow away aboard our ship. In the meantime, we have deduced that someone is feeding information to Michaelson, who is passing that information to the Captain, who's passing it back to Michaelson -- the several parties seem to be feeding each other different lengths of what they assume is the same rope in hope that somewhere there will be a noose."

The island girl chuckled. "This is supposed to be straightforward? Where do the Americans and our friends from Darwin fit in?

"I cannot say," Iverson admitted. "They seem to have stumbled into this business by accident."

"The Captain seems unusually concerned about them."

"This shouldn't be surprising," said Iverson. "They're innocent passers-by. He can hardly like to see them placed at risk because of their association with us."

Sarah glanced at him strangely. "You think that's all there is to it?"

"Of course," Iverson replied "What else could there be?"

For a moment, she looked as if she was about to kick him. Iverson steeled himself for the blow, then relaxed as she smiled and turned away. What was that all about? he wondered.

Accommodations for their uninvited guest had posed a problem. They could hardly keep her locked up. Even if they'd wanted to, the airship had no compartment substantial enough to serve a a brig, and the alternative -- chaining her to a bunk -- seemed decidedly un-British.

Lacking another alternative, Captain Everett made sure someone kept watch over the woman at all times, rotating this task among everyone except the senior officers and Loris. Now it was Lieutenant Murdock's turn. He found this duty uncomfortable. The Korean was so silent and uncommunicative that it was like escorting a ghost.

They were preparing to leave the mess hall when she surprised him with a question.

"Where we ship going?"

The lieutenant thought for a moment. This lack of facility with English grammar suggested that the woman might have difficulty parsing an elaborate reply. "We are heading to an island," he told her. This seemed unlikely to be misunderstood.

Her face want blank for a moment, as if she'd belatedly recognized an error in some strategy. "How more distance? How more soon?" she asked awkwardly.

This posed Murdock some grammatical problems of his own. Whatever did she mean? "I'm not sure it would be right for me to say," he replied, doing his best to beg the question.

The woman might have been considering another question when Iwamoto glided past the door. She started, then seemed to hiss and withdraw, the way a cat might react in the presence of a strange dog. "Why he aboard?" she asked.

"He's our engineer," Murdock explained.

"`En-gi-nea-rur'." She seemed to mull over this strange word. "He your friend?"

Murdock wasn't quite sure how to answer this question. Iwamoto kept to himself. In his way, he was almost as big an enigma as this woman. "Well, the Japanese were our allies during the War," he ventured.

The woman's expression seemed to darken. Murdock wondered if he'd said something wrong. "What war?" she asked.

Could she really not know of the conflagration that had threatened to consume the world, he asked himself? "The... Great War," he replied helplessly. "It began in 1914 and lasted for two terrible years. Didn't you hear about it in... uh... your home country?"

The woman shook her head curtly. "We other things happening."

Emily and Clarice stood in the rear of the Philadelphian's control car watching the islands vanish behind them. Beside them, the Number Two Engine rumbled at half-power like an idling locomotive. Far to the south, the Flying Cloud was an elegant silver dot.

Emily noticed her companion gazing at the other ship with a wistful expression. "What are you thinking?" she asked.

"The Captain seemed so secretive," said Clarice. "They must be off on some grand adventure."

"Is that all you're thinking?"

"Of course," Clarice replied "What else could there be?"

Behind them, the bridge crew came to subtle attention as Mister Cartwell stepped from the companionway. "Good morning men. And ladies," the industrialist announced. Somehow he managed to be heard over the sound of the engine without seeming raise his voice.

"Good morning, Mister Cartwell," the two women said brightly. There was something cheerful about the man. He reminded Emily of a stuffed bear she'd had as a child.

The American gestured at the islands to the south. "What a beautiful view!" he remarked. "I'm glad I got here in time to appreciate it. It's a pity my friend Jack couldn't be here to see this, but he's too busy with his bank."

"Where have you been, sir?" Clarice asked. "We haven't seen you since we lifted ship."

"I've been studying this document we purchased. It seems to be a Latin translation of some ancient Arabian myths."

"Like the Adventures of Sinbad?" asked Emily.

"Uh... not exactly," said Mister Cartwell. "This one's filled with wild tales of vanished continents and unlikely beings from beyond the stars. Still, it may contain a few nuggets of truth. Several passages note a connection between creatures that sound like squidbats and sunken ruins. There's a famous ruin on the shores of Ponapai. We'll give that one a visit and see what we can find."

Next week: Marvels Strange And Terrific...

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