The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 285: Several Different Equations Converge On The Same Value...

(Almost) All roads lead to Guam

Professor Goodwin had not been entirely certain whether the supposed squidbat photograph had come from Pago Pago or Guam. Both destinations were equidistant from the Santa Cruz Islands, and there seemed little to choose between them. On impulse, Mister Cartwell decided to visit Guam first. It might take slightly longer to fly downwind and upwind than it would to fly crosswind and downwind, but with an airship, the extra travel time would hardly be noticeable.

Now the Philadelphian was ambling north at an airspeed of 50 knots, helped along by a light tailwind. Captain Collins intended to reach the air station in Agana at dawn the next day. Emily and Clarice whiled away the time in the radio shack, `surfing the ether'. The frequencies were always a source of entertainment. The amateur bands were alive with detailed discussions of radio equipment, local weather, and lawn care. The commercial messages posed some interesting challenges -- Emily spent several minutes trying to decipher a brief coded message from the island they'd just departed. The military transmissions were many, varied, and food for thought. Why, wondered Clarice, would an American naval unit in the Marshal Islands want a consignment of butterfly nets?

Sometime around mid-morning, they picked up a faint transmission from the west. The signal was weak, torn by static, and impossible to make out.

"What could that have been?" wondered Emily. "It sounded almost like a distress call."

"Maybe someone was attacked by pirates," Clarice suggested. "Didn't Captain Everett tell us about the `Sky Pirates of Tahiti'?"

Emily laughed. "`Sky Pirates of Tahiti'? Go on!"

"He assured me they actually met the fellows," said Clarice

"You've been paying a fair bit of attention to our Captain," Emily observed

"I don't know why you keep going on about that!" Clarice retorted. "All that man cares about is his ship. And what about you, Miss Wilcox? Someone's been teaching you a fair bit of Signal Corps practice. What else have you learned?"

The brunette giggled. "That's none of your bizzo."

"Well, you're the one who started this..."

"Good day ladies," came a cheerful voice from behind them. "I'm about to join your aunt in the saloon. Would you care to accompany me?"

The two young women considered this proposal. On the one hand, it would mean spending some time with their aunt. On the other hand, it would mean spending time with Mister Cartwell, whose company they'd come to enjoy. His relentlessly good nature seemed very Australian.

"Dinki di!" they replied.

The Philadelphian's saloon was as elegant as ever. The lounges and settees might be duraluminum and fabric rather than wood and leather, but they made up in style what they lacked in ornamentation. The lamps might be molded from bakelite, but the designs were by Tiffany. A powerful modern Victrola completed the ensemble.

They found Aunt Behema listening to the noted Italian tenor, Antonio Notariello, performing the arietta from Pagliacci. She frowned at the interruption, then brightened as she caught sight of Mister Cartwell. "G'day," she thundered. "I thought you were up in the control car plotting our course."

"There's not much for me to do there," Mister Cartwell admitted. "I just play a management role while Captain Collins does all the real work. How have you been keeping yourself here in the saloon?"

The matron gave what might have constituted a smile for members of her species. "Bonzer!" she replied, gesturing at the industrialist's record collection. "This is the bee's knees."

It took Mister Cartwell a few moments to recognize this as a metaphor -- a hazard, perhaps, of having field biology as a hobby. While the industrialist was scratching his head, Clarice spotted something out the port windows.

"I say," she remarked, "is that an airship crossing our stern?"

Mister Cartwell followed her gaze, then held up a finger to measure bearings and counted off the seconds. "So it is," he replied. "I'd say they're about 20 miles behind us, heading east."

"You performed that calculation in your head?" asked Clarice.

"Well, I do design controls for a living," the industrialist said modestly.

By now Emily was peering through the binoculars that had hung from the drink cabinet. "I don't recognize the lines, but that ship looks quite large," she said. "Who could they possibly be?"

Mister Cartwell shrugged. "From their course, I'd guess they're an American cruiser bound from Mindanao to Pago Pago. We can check the dispatches after we reach Agana."

"We have word from our allies," Wasserman announced.

The Governor set down his papers. "I assume they proceeded as we expected."

"Ja," the Dutchman said smugly. "Everett will not be able to learn anything from the Shiratori Maru."

The Governor seemed unsurprised by this news. "Our allies are too precipitate," he said disapprovingly. "Everett will wonder why they destroyed the vessel, and we must not underestimate the man's resourcefulness."

"What can he learn now?" asked Wasserman. "The people our vrienden worried about will have gone down with the ship, and the passenger manifest is out of his reach in Japan."

"That may be so," said the Governor, "but I wonder how he found out about the vessel in the first place. Someone has been feeding the captain information. We must find out who."

Wasserman thought this over. As an ambitious entrepreneur, with a liberal attitude toward customs regulations, he had contacts throughout the Pacific. "Shall I call in some favors in Cairns?" he asked. "If someone has an agent at the Air Station, we should be able to learn who this man is."

The Governor shook his head. "The agent's identity is not important. We want to know who he is working for. You will proceed to Vanatu and take passage to Guam. That was the Shiratori Maru's next destination. We will see who else shows up there."

"Our operator detected two transmissions from the islands we left behind, Mein Herr," said Artur. "I have his report here."

Sigmund glanced at the papers like a predator evaluating potential prey. "What does the man have to say?"

"The first was a brief message in some private code. There was not enough material to decipher, but it was too short to contain any substantial information. The second was a message in plain from the government station. Our operator recognized the hand. It consisted of a weather report, followed by a list of prices and ports of destination."

The Fat Man's lieutenant brushed the papers aside. "These will be commercial messages," he said. "Copra and snail shell cultivation are highly competitive industries, and traders are quick to seize every possible advantage. Have we heard anything more from our quarry?"

"No, Mein Herr," Artur said cautiously. "'No' was rarely a safe word in this particular company. "We still do not know whether they are heading to Pago Pago or Guam."

Sigmund glanced at the Almanac, then studied the chart on the wall behind him and jotted down some figures. At last he nodded. "They will call at Pago Pago first," he announced. "This will allow them to begin their journey with a crosswind leg. They will not wish to spend extra time flying downwind to Guam and back. But we will contact our agents in both places as a precaution."

Next week: Perhaps It's Still Goodenough...

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