The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 292: On the Whole, I'd Rather Be On The Philadelphian

Miss Perkins watching the Phildelphian depart

Clarice and Emily stood in the bow station of the Philadelphian, leaning out to study the scene below. From 2000', Kwajelein looked much as it had the previous year: a lopsided ring of coral islands surrounding a broad central lagoon. The place seemed busy as always. Dozens of vessels lay at anchor in its harbor, and the neighboring village bustled with traffic... to the extent that any island village could `bustle'. At the air station, several commercial vessels rode from the masts, surrounded by cargo and handling gear. Beyond them, a new G Class blimp rose on a flight to some nearby atoll.

The two women had spent most of the voyage from Guam prying information from their aunt. Now they were trying to piece this together. Unfortunately, some pieces seemed to be missing.

"It can't just be coincidence we're back in the Marshall Islands," said Emily. "This was where we had those adventures last year."

"Those all had something to do with that big explosion on Ujelang," said Clarice. "This involves small funny animals: degenerate survivors of some ancient race that filtered down from beyond the stars...

"...and sleeps beneath the waves, waiting until the stars are right to rise again and sweep the Earth clean of humanity," said Emily, completing her friend's sentence.

"Dinki-di," laughed Clarice. "But who could be behind all this? We've met three different groups so far: the Dutch, the Germans, and those peculiar Englishmen."

"The Dutch didn't seem to have much clue what they were about," said Emily. "That suggests they were on their own. And those Germans must have been agents of the Fat Man. He does seem to be the kind of fellow who'd run around kidnapping aunts by mistake."

Clarice giggled. "Let's hope he's learned his lesson. But who is this She Who Must Be Obeyed? Could she be part of the British Union?"

"I rather doubt it," said Emily. "Mysterious female masterminds don't seem very British. Didn't Captain Everett encounter some exiled Russian princess? Perhaps it's her."

"Maybe," Clarice admitted, "but why would Poms be working for a Russian?"

Before Emily could reply, Mister Cartwell called from the head of the steps.

"Ah, there you are!" he said cheerfully. "Your aunt and I are going ashore to meet with the fellow who sent Professor Wilmarth that photograph. It seems he's a local blimp captain. Would you two like to come along?"

The Todstalker may not have borne much resemblance to an ordinary island freighter, but amidst all this shipping, no one seemed to give the schnellboot a second glance. Sigmund took advantage of their anonymity to tie up to one of the smaller wharfs. Now he stood on the flying bridge, watching through binoculars as the Philadelphian began her approach to Kwajelain's air station.

"Finally," he growled to his captain, "something has gone as planned."

"Yes, Mein Herr," Artur said cautiously. "What will we do now?"

"We have tried to take the agents and failed," said Sigmund. "This time we will try something different. Summon the men, and issue them cudgels and axes -- weapons suitable for use aboard an airship."

Artur grinned, any qualms he might have had vanishing at the prospect of action. "I understand, Mein Herr," he replied. "Who shall we leave behind to watch the boat?"

Sigmund glanced toward the galley, where their maid was doubtless peeling potatoes. "The altes weib," he snorted. "We will not be coming back."

The blimp captain, Sandbrook, was a veteran of the North Sea squadron. During the War, men like him had captured the world's imagination as they watched for the Kaiser's fleet, moving the First Lord of the Admiralty to proclaim, "Never have so many owed so much to something so slow!" Now the airman relaxed in a dressing gown, sipping tea with a slice of lemon.

"Pardon me if I don't' rise," he told his guests. "I seem to have a bit of the flu. Several of my crew are down with it as well. Must have caught it on the island. Unhealthy place, that."

"What island was this?" asked Mister Cartwell.

"Ujelang," said Sandbrook. "I assume you've heard about the big explosion they had last year."

The industrialist nodded. "There was an article about it in the National Geographic: `Mystery in the Marshalls'."

"The Japanese sent a team of scientists to determine the cause. We've been flying supplies for them. They're the fellows who took that photograph you asked about."

"Who would I call if I wanted to visit?" asked Mister Cartwell.

The airman thought this over. "Their shortwave equipment has not been particularly reliable. But if you showed up unannounced, I'm sure they'd be glad to have guests."

Clarice and Emily exchanged worried glances as the party made its way back to the air station. It seemed they'd become part of someone else's story, but whose story was it? And what could it possibly be about?

As they were pondering these questions, they were accosted by a familiar figure.

"Miss Perkins," Emily said in surprise. "Whatever are you doing here?"

"Keep your voice down," whispered the secretary. "You never know who might be listening. I came to warn you. The Fat Man's people are on Kwajelein. They mean to kidnap you. You must get off this island as soon as you can."

"Fat Man? Kidnap?" protested Aunt Behema. "Who is this chappie and what is going on?"

Clarice opened her mouth to answer, then realized this might take some time. "We'll explain on the way to the ship," she replied.

It had been easy to bribe the watchman to leave his post at the elevator: an example of the free market at work. They'd ridden up to ship like ordinary workmen and taken the mooring watch by surprise. The Americans had been no match for a eight seasoned veterans of the War.

"Now we wait," Sigmund said smugly, "until our quarry arrives."

Mister Cartwell listened to Clarice and Emily's story with evident delight. This was his usual attitude toward the world. Aunt Behema seemed annoyed. Kidnapping, murder, and large catastrophic explosions offended her sense of order. She snorted with indignation and glared to the northwest as if she could undo the latter by sheer force of will.

A new watchman was on duty when they reached the top of the mooring mast. Clarice noticed that he looked unusually tough. She glanced at the fellow, wondering where he'd come from, then followed the others onto the ship.

"How long will it take us to reach Ujelang?" Emily asked Mister Cartwell as they descended the steps to the keel passage.

"We'll have to ask Captain Collins," said the industrialist, "but with a tailwind, we could be there in a matter of hours."

"Ujelang," came a voice behind them. "So that is where you were heading. I should have guessed."

They turned to see a sinister figure emerge from the shadows of a ballast tank, flanked by a pair of men with boarding axes.

"Who are you?" Mister Cartwell asked calmly.

"My name is Sigmund, and you are now my prisoners."

The usual onlookers had gathered to watch the Philadelphian lift. Cynics had suggested Count Zeppelin invented dirigibles merely so old airmen could stand by the fence and criticize mooring operations. Miss Perkins listened to the hecklers with half an ear.

"They were down by the bow when they dropped the mooring," said one.

"It's all those extra passengers," said another. "They didn't allow for the change in trim."

"Extra passengers?" asked Miss Perkins, with a twinge of apprehension.

"Those Germans," the man replied. "They were big bruisers."

Her heart sank. It didn't take much imagination to guess what had happened. She had to find the wireless station, call Michaelson and persuade him to arrange a rescue.

She was hurrying back to town when a stranger tapped her on the shoulder.

"Fraulein Perkins, we must talk."

Next week: The Next Time We Practice To Deceive, Results Might Not Be Quite As Satisfactory...

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