Episode 130: The Tongan Way
"Hoist away!" ordered the foreman. Gears whined and the barge dipped as the
derrick's cable pulled tight. Water boiled beneath the hoist, then the
wreck emerged, dripping mud, seaweed, and several perplexed-looking fish.
Everett watched as the operator swung it toward shore and set it down next
to the three other vehicles they'd recovered. The Holden seemed
comparatively undamaged -- presumably it had always looked like that -- but
the touring cars had not fared nearly as well. The Vauxhall was in
particularly bad shape. Michaelson examined it with an aggrieved
"Your people seem to have a way with motorcars," he remarked dryly. "That's
what: five in four months? And this one cost rather dear."
"We did contrive to save your secretary," replied Everett. "She might have
been more difficult to replace."
"True," acknowledged the senior captain. He glanced at Miss Perkins, who
had removed a mirror from her handbag and was restoring her makeup to its
original specifications, and gave a small nod. "Still, the cost was
somewhat high. Let's hope this is all the bad news we'll receive today."
Conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a motorbike with a dispatch
rider aboard. Everett recognized the Signal Corps ensign who'd managed the
investigation of the R-87. The messenger dismounted, approached Michaelson,
"Urgent news from the Station, sir," he announced. "There has been a
depredation at your office. Someone broke into your files and made off
with the logbook Captain Everett recovered from Darwin."
Michaelson's expression darkened. "That would be the one that suggested the
White Russian conspirators might have shipped a second Device to their cell
"I'm afraid so, sir."
The senior captain turned to Everett. He seemed to be struggling to contain
"It appears we have a race," he observed. "Whoever these people are, they
will almost certainly have noticed the relevant entry. You will proceed to
Tonga directly, at your vessel's real top speed -- yes, I know about that --
to arrive ahead of them. Once you're there, you will locate the White
Russian exile community, learn what they know of this matter, and prevent
our unknown adversaries from achieving their goals. Miss Perkins will
accompany you to make sure these instructions are carried out."
The trip to Tonga was as expensive as it was uneventful. A 2500-mile
flight into a quartering headwind would have consumed significant amounts of
fuel and hydrogen even at cruising speed. At top speed, it drew heavily on
the Flying Cloud's resources. They were perilously low on fuel
and hydrogen when they finally reached Tongatapu, where the air station lay.
The island was a verdant green paradise, like a great emerald gem set in the
middle of the Pacific.
The station itself was somewhat less prepossessing, and showed noticeable
evidence of neglect. The field was littered with rusting equipment, several
of the masts were leaning to one side, and siding was missing from some of
the airship sheds.
"I trust we'll be able to resupply here," said MacKiernan skeptically.
"According to the Almanac, they do have the necessary facilities," said
Jenkins, "but reports are mixed regarding their quality."
Everett studied the field, which showed no signs of life. "We'll cross that
bridge when we come to it," he observed. "Our first order of business may
be to summon a handling party. Jenkins, make our signal."
The ground crew took considerable time to arrive. Even after they'd
assembled, they made no particular effort to perform their jobs. They
milled around, chatted among themselves, and examined the handling lines as
if they'd never seen such things before. Everett watched with growing
impatience, then turned to his chief rigger.
"Abercrombie, these fellows don't appear to be particularly diligent.
Please go down and take charge of the operation. Mister MacKiernan, I
believe you should accompany him. This situation may require the presence
of an officer."
"I'll go too," said Miss Perkins in an exasperated tone. "These
people need a good talking to."
The Transporter set down with a jarring thump. MacKiernan and Abercrombie
flexed their knees to ride with the impact, recovered their balance, and
stepped to the ground. Miss Perkins waited patiently -- she did not seem
subject to the usual laws of physics -- then followed.
A burly islander walked over to greet them.
"Malo e lelei!" he announced, "Welcome to Fua'amotu Air Station.
I'm Tokoni, the manager."
"When will your men be ready to take our handling lines?" asked MacKiernan.
"They'll get around to it when they're ready," said the manager. "This is
"I beg your pardon?" exclaimed MacKiernan.
"'Fakatonga'," said Miss Perkins. "This would translate to
something like 'the Tongan Way'. One imagines it's also a synonym for
"Yes," said Tokoni. He issued a few laconic orders to his men, who
listened with apparent disinterest, then ambled off to obey. Slowly,
with a notable lack of efficiency, they walked the ship to the mast,
pausing a few feet short of the structure. Overhead, Wallace and Loris
leaned out to struggle with the mooring attachment until an errant gust
of wind swung the vessel to port, almost dragging them from their perch.
"Watch it, laddies!" cried Abercrombie indignantly. "Can't ye do better
The manager shrugged. "These things happen. It's fakatonga."
It took them several tries, but at last, by a combination of numbers,
strength, and collective weight, the ground crew managed to manhandle the
vessel into position and hold her there while Wallace and Loris locked the
bow fitting. The mast creaked as it took the load, but seemed in no
immediate danger of collapse. The Irishman nodded and picked up the
intercom. To his surprise, it actually worked.
"MacKiernan here," he announced. "It looks like the hard part is over.
We're waiting for them to hook up the fuel and hydrogen lines."
"Do you have any idea how long this might take?" came Everett's voice over
"It looks like they're bringing them up now, sir."
A party of workmen trudged over, dragging a thick rubber-coated hose. They
dropped it with a thump, turned, and ambled back the way they'd come,
leaving the hose lying unattended behind them.
"Aren't they going to connect that to the fitting?" asked MacKiernan.
"There's no hurry," said Tokoni, "it's..."
"Yes, I know, fakatonga," growled MacKiernan. He picked up the intercom to
warn the ship to expect some delay, then spun around at the sound of a hiss.
Some careless worker had turned on the flow too soon, and hydrogen was
spewing from the end of the hose directly into the atmosphere.
"Captain!" he cried, "Drop the mooring, drop emergency ballast, and
clear the field now!"
In the Royal Naval Airship Service, some commands were obeyed instantly,
without question. A clunk sounded overhead, followed by the roar of water
cascading from the tanks. Shouts rang out as others realized what was
happening. A workman ran toward the shutoff valve, realized it was too
late, and dove for cover as the leaking gas ignited.
"Down!" yelled Abercrombie.
Pure hydrogen burns with a nearly colorless light. The same could not be
said for the hose, which sparkled like a fuse as flames rushed back toward
the storage tanks at the far end of the field. These ignited with a
loud series of whumps, sending burning debris high into the air.
At last the explosions subsided and the field was still.
Slowly, cautiously, the three companions rose to their feet to take stock of
the situation. Around them, islanders were standing up, dusting themselves
off, and going about their business as if nothing at all remarkable had
occurred. MacKiernan glanced at the wreckage of the hydrogen facility, then
up at the Flying Cloud, which was circling several thousand feet
Beside him, Abercrombie sighed.
"They'll be sair short o' ballast after that whappin climb," he said
"They'll also need fuel and lifting gas, and the nearest reliable stations
are on Fiji and American Samoa," MacKiernan observed. "We may be here for a
Next week: Good times in Nuku'alofa...
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