Episode 553: One Step At A Time
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
"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
"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
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
Next week: You'd Think They'd Have Known Better...
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