Episode 169: Narrowing the Possibilities
Baron Warfield shrugged off the surplice and cassock and handed them to
his valet. They were a useful disguise in the South Pacific, where
missionaries often seemed to outnumber the islanders, but the deception
had been a waste of time, for his investigation had not been a success.
On the other side of the salon, the baroness raised an epee, assumed a
guard, and lunged at a golf ball swaying on a cord from the ceiling. Her
tip hit dead center with an intimidating `thock'. "I take it this was not
the Professor," she remarked as she parried an imaginary riposte.
The baron walked over to the weapon stand, picked up a second blade, and
gave it an idle swish through the air. "No, it appears our sources were in
error. These ignorant fools don't seem to know the difference between an
archaeologist and an anthropologist. Did anything noteworthy happen while
I was away?"
"We received another message from our informant. According to her, our
quarry has doubled back to the Coral Sea. This should give us an
opportunity to intercept them."
The baron set the weapon back, opened a cabinet, and unstoppered a flask of
brandy. "How will we accomplish this if we don't know where to find the
Professor?" he asked.
The baroness smiled. It was not a kindly expression. "If we don't know
where the Professor is, they won't either. We can take advantage of their
Everett and Jenkins studied the list they'd obtained from the Lloyds
representative. It was concise, neatly written, and significantly longer
than they'd expected.
"Interesting," Everett observed. "It appears that we underestimated the
number of attacks."
"Seven vessels in seven days?" said Jenkins. "I'd say someone is a bit of
"So it would seem," mused the captain, "but none of these attacks involved
any significant amount of plunder. This suggests the attackers were looking
for something else."
"Do you think they found it?" asked Jenkins.
Everett thought this over, then shook his head. "The evidence suggests
otherwise. We can assume they were still looking for whatever it was when
they boarded the May Goldfinch, and that's the last vessel on our
list. Unless there have been some unreported attacks since then, it would
seem they've abandoned their search."
The signalman nodded as if this confirmed his own reasoning. "Who do you
think these people are, sir?"
Everett suppressed a sigh. "It's difficult to say. We've been told two of
the fellows were English while another was a foreigner, but this does little
to limit the possibilities. And our only other clue is a rather unreliable
description of their airship."
"Surely Mr. Trenton got the number of engines right. After all, the man
is an accountant."
"We should not leap to conclusions," said Everett. "The Wollseleys have
four engines, but two are mounted in the control car to drive one
"Three propellers then: how many vessels meet this description?"
"More than we can conveniently investigate," Everett replied. "The minor
Powers maintain any number of small three-engined patrol craft vessels --
it's possible one has passed into private hands. There are also quite a
few yachts with this configuration. I would have thought it unlikely any
could have made it to the Pacific, but Lord Milbridge's flight suggests the
thing is possible. We must also consider America. They've built a
sizable fleet of transports to link their country together by air, and they
also have some reputation as a nation of immigrants. Perhaps this
hypothetical foreigner is one of their so-called `gangsters', who has
commandeered a used dirigible and hopes to pursue a new career here in the
"What about Russia or Japan?"
"I doubt they're involved. We can hope Mr. Trenton would have recognized a
Russian accent, and as for the Japanese..." Everett paused in thought,
"...I have my suspicions about the state of affairs in Japan."
"Where does that leave us?"
"In search of information, as usual," said Everett wryly, "so we'll continue
to Futuna and try to track down that wine shipment. While we're there, we
should contact those anthropologists, the Cressmans, to see if they have any
thoughts regarding the attack on Iverson's party -- given our current state
of ignorance, I'm reluctant to dismiss the incident as mere coincidence.
We'll also send a query to Captain Michaelson to learn if any
yacht with a name similar to the ones on our list has been seen at Cairns.
I doubt anything will come of this, but we must leave no stone unturned."
In the interests of speed, Everett sent a party down by Transporter rather
than wait until the ship was moored at Leava to contact the Cressmans.
Predictably, Iverson found himself in charge of the sortie. He endured the
descent with admirable stoicism, extricated himself from the palm tree, then
led his people to the settlement where he'd met the couple before.
They arrived to discover the anthropologists standing in front of their
dwelling, surrounded by shipping crates and packaging material. Mr. Cressman
was packing items into one of the former while his wife recorded its contents
on a list.
"Welcome back to Kolotai," she said. "At first we thought you were the
passenger blimp en route to Leava, but then we recognized the
Flying Cloud. She's a beautiful ship. How goes your voyage?"
"It's been pleasant enough, though it has not been without incident," said
the lieutenant. He gestured at the crates. "I take it you're preparing to
"Yes," said Mrs. Cressman with some satisfaction. "We've completed our
study of the tennis cults of Futuna. Our work here is done."
"Finally," grumbled her husband.
"Then it's good we caught you in time. We had an unusual experience in the
hinterlands of Porto Villa, and wondered if you might be able to offer any
insights into the matter."
The anthropologists listened with interest while Iverson described his
encounter in the New Hebrides. When he was finished, Mrs. Cressman shook
her head in puzzlement. "That's very peculiar," she observed. "These
indigenous cultures don't place much value on material goods. I can't
imagine why they'd threaten you over something they consider so
"Is it possible we offended some local religious belief?" asked Iverson.
"I can't imagine how," said Mr. Cressman. "Most of these islanders are
animists, though there are the usual legends of the Great Old Ones who
filtered down from the stars in some age before time, created human beings
as an accident or a joke, and will return again when the stars are right to
wipe the Earth clean of humanity. These are peaceful belief systems. For
the most part."
"Have there been any other reports of islanders attacking Europeans whom
they accused of stealing the `secret of cargo'."
"Not as far as we know," said Mr. Cressman. It occurred to Iverson that
this observation could be explained in several profoundly different ways.
"And you have no idea what this `secret' might be?" he asked.
"No," said Mrs. Cressman, "but I doubt your would-be attackers knew either.
It is the nature of myths to be vague and unspecific. That way, believers
never have to worry about them coming true. It's like the childhood
experience of Christmas: anticipation is much more rewarding than the event
Iverson nodded. He was not so old that he didn't remember waiting up on
Christmas Eve. "Thank you for your assistance," he said politely. "We'd better
get back to the ship. But I do have one more question. At any time during
your recent travels, did you happen to encounter an English nobleman and his
wife searching these islands for an archeologist?"
"No, the only Englishmen we've met since we came here was a lone Anglican
Next week: Lean Times in Leava...
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