The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 553: One Step At A Time

Miss Kim. Wilcox, and Smade watch the Mysterious Cruiser

As evening fell, the R-129 was cruising northwest above the Halmahera Sea with the island of Gilolo a dark green rumor to the west. Perkins visited the control car to find MacKiernan busy at the chart table. The secretary didn't need to glance at his plot, for she'd already guessed their immediate destination.

"I take it we plan to call at the Philippines before we proceed to French Indochina," she remarked.

"That is correct," MacKiernan told her. "We'll want resupply and intelligence, both of which we may hope to find on Palawan."

"The latter would be from this Hunminjeongeum Society of Miss Kim's," said Miss Perkins, breezing through the alien syllables as if they were her native tongue. MacKiernan did a double-take, then collected himself.

"That is my hope," he replied. "I gather from our visit to Palawan and Colon last year that they'd entirely failed in their mission to persuade the local inhabitants to adopt the Korean alphabet, but they may have left a few teachers behind, and we have reason to believe some may be working against the Japanese nationalists."

Miss Perkins nodded. Convoluted though this chain of reasoning might seem, it was quite straightforward compared with the plots in which they'd been enmeshed. "The Japanese must have agents there as well. Do you think they'll recognize us?"

"This is most certainly a risk," MacKiernan admitted. "Our ship is sufficiently ordinary to pass without notice, but you and I are another matter. Our adversaries can be counted on to mark the commander of any visiting vessel, and might recognize me as the Captain's former Exec, while you... " he smiled, "...would stand out anywhere."

She smiled back, "Thank you, Fergus. What about our young gentlemen? Could they make the inquiries in our stead?"

MacKiernan glanced toward the head of the bridge, where Smade had planted hisself with somewhat less animation than a stump. "I suppose this is possible," he decided. "They've managed to acquit themselves fairly well in the past, though I'm still not entirely certain how."

It was another day before they reached Palawan. MacKiernan timed their arrival for morning, to make the handling parties' job easier, and soon the R-129 was riding form a mast at Tatay, next to a Dutch mail packet and an Argentine freighter that gave every appearance of having arrived by accident. As the Irishman had predicted, no one paid much attention to another Armstrong Whitworth, and soon Wilcox and Smade were following Miss Kim in search of the Hunminjeongeum Society.

Tatay was very much a backwater -- a Spanish settlement from the 17th Century, stranded in the 20th. Once capital of Palawan, now it was forgotten by everyone except historians of Spain's colonial era and devisers of crossword puzzles. Korean writing instructors were conspicuous by their absence, and inquiries at the mission school and along the waterfront turned up no sign of their goal, but at last a shopkeeper remarked that a grupo de maestras might have passed through town to establish themselves on the other side of the island.

"What's a `grupo de maestras'?" asked Wilcox.

"It mean `group of teachers'," said Miss Kim.

"That sounds like our lot," said the lieutenant. "Mister Smade, wake up and let's have look at the place."

No motors were available for hire, but the airmen were able to secure a wagon and team. Its two rangy horses were no match for Wilcox's energy, and soon they were plodding up the road across the narrow range of hills that ran down the center of the island.

"What do you think we'll find on the other side, Smade?" asked Wilcox. He gave his companion a nudge. "Smade?"

Smade blinked, then seemed to remember where he was. "According to the Almanac, not many people live on the west side of the island. There may be a small settlement on the other side of these hills, but there seems to be some disagreement regarding its name, or whether it even exists."

Wilcox frowned. This didn't sound very promising. Whatever might have prompted the presumed Korean agents to seek out such an obscure place? His question was answered as two muscular Asian men in white uniforms, with contrasting black belts, stepped from what might have been a guardhouse and gestured for them to dismount.

"What you doing this road?" demanded one.

"We're.. um... just out for a ride," said Wilcox, who`d made no preparation for such an encounter.

"That not allow!" the man announced. "You turn back now!"

"And who's going to make us?" said Wilcox, offended by this high-handed treatment.

The man smiled in much the same way a wolf might smile at a helpless fawn. "We are!"

Before Wilcox could reply, the two guards had launched themselves at the lieutenants with leaping kicks. Wilcox stepped back, stumbled, his attacker tripped over him to fetch up against one of the horses. The animal, already in bad temper because of the hill it had been forced to climb, butted him to the ground, then planted a hoof on his chest. Meanwhile Smade had absorbed his attacker's blow without any sign of inconvenience and was gazing into the distance while the man pummeled him with succession of vicious punches and kicks. As the man sagged back, exhausted, the Smade blinked and seemed to notice him.

"Are you through yet?" he asked.

"Nani?" the guard exclaimed in surprise.

Smade tsked, picked the man up, carried him over to the wagon, and dumped him in front of the other horse. The animal, recognizing what was required, set a hoof down on him as well.

Wilcox straightened his jacket, then glanced around the field of what had passed for a battle. "I wonder what they were guarding," he remarked.

"Maybe that," said Miss Kim, pointing to the west where a vessel was rising from a station that had been hidden on the other side of the hills. They followed her gaze to see a mighty cruiser with eight engines in a row of four on each side, turn toward the south and begin to put on way.

"Oh dear," said Smade.

"Quite," agreed Wilcox. "I imagine Captain MacKiernan will want to know about this."

Next week: You'd Think They'd Have Known Better...

Comments about Episode 553? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit