The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 240: Things Are A Bit Different Here In The Islands

Squidbat with a book

"One quarter astern on Number One, Mister Starbuck," ordered Al.

Fleming reached for the engine telegraph and rang the command. "One quarter astern on One," he replied. In the aftermost engine car, the propeller spun to a halt, then began to rotate backwards as the engineer engaged the reversing gear. With ponderous grace, the airship slowed to a stop.

"Altitude?" asked Al.

"One hundred fifty," said the elevatorman.

Al thumbed the intercom. "Drop the handling lines."

"Lines away."

Fleming wondered where Al had gained his ship-handling skills. The AT-38 was not an easy vessel to bring down to a mooring. She was an old ship, with the long unwieldy hull, inadequate control surfaces, crude fixed-pitch propellers, and wayward behavior that characterized airships of her generation. But the American was managing the evolution as well as any naval officer. Even so, it took the handling parties the better part of a half-hour to walk the airship to the mast, which gave the bridge crew plenty of time to find fault with their organization.

"Wankers," grumbled Fleming. "If we had a glider, I could have flown down to run the show."

Al glanced at him. "You fly heavier-than-air too?"

The Aussie nodded. "I have a Lilienthal wing I race back in Sydney."

Al smiled wistfully. "My brother Mal and I tried to start an aeroplane company in San Francisco, but no one wanted our products. Now he's selling cars down in Burbank and I'm here in the Pacific. But that's all water over the dam. Let's get mooring watches set and have a look at this dump."

Galela was a more substantial settlement than Fleming had anticipated. In addition to an air station, it had a wharf large enough to handle the occasional steamer, several warehouses, the usual missions, and a trim wood cabin that served as a post office, police station, and administration building. A modern shortwave antenna rose behind it. Vlad examined this with displeasure.

"I did not expect them to have radio here," he observed. "If Karlov was clever, he will have paid one of the operators to warn him if anyone comes looking for him. We shall have to conceal our intentions. Anna, do you have agents on this island?"

The woman glared back at him. "You should know," she said sharply.

Vlad seemed hurt by his companion's implied accusation. The relationship between the two Russians had been cool ever since the incident with the book. Had Anna used it to list the names of her spies, Fleming wondered? And had Nettie known this when she pressured him into making a copy? He risked a glance at the moll. She was perched on an old crate doing her nails, the very picture of... well, perhaps 'innocence' wasn't exactly the word that went with that particular dress.

Vlad opened his mouth as if to reply, then turned to Marty. "I will visit the administration building and check their shipping records," he announced sullenly. "I am known as a trader, so no one will think this remarkable. Meanwhile, Anna can make inquiries in the village posing as a... I believe you call this a 'sightseer'."

Nettie hopped to her feet and gazed up at Marty. "That sounds like fun, honey!" she crooned. "Can I go too?"

Any objections the gangster might have had seemed swept away by the impact of her smile. "Sure, babe," he told her. "But you'd better have some muscle along, in case the natives get restless. I'll send Starbuck here to keep an eye on 'em."

Fleming did his best to hide his alarm. How the devil did she manage that? he wondered. And what's she up to now?

The tourists drew stares from the villagers as they made their exploration. Nettie would have attracted attention anywhere, and Anna's aristocratic bearing set her apart from the island women... as did her figure, which Fleming couldn't help but notice was somewhat dumpy compared to theirs. The village itself was singularly uninteresting, but near the edge of town, the trio came upon a renovated warehouse with a freshly-lettered sign tacked above the entrance.

"The Fellowship of The Old Fellows," read Anna. "What could this possibly be?"

"I bet it's some kinda men's club, like the Elks or Masons," said Nettie, playing her empty-headed female role to perfection.

Anna nodded. "A fraternal organization," she mused. "Perhaps they have heard of our quarry." She gestured at Fleming to roll aside the door. Inside, light from the eaves slanted down across a broad dirt floor lined with tikis, unfathomable native art, and several bookshelves. Fleming crossed to one of the latter and examined its contents. He recognized none of the authors -- an eclectic assortment that ranging from Alhazred and Comte d'Erlette to Tilden, Bentham, and Smith.

Nettie picked up one of the volumes -- a mold-eaten book bound in pale leather -- flipped through a few pages, then set it back on the shelf. An enigmatic flicker of expression passed across her face. "It doesn't look like anyone's here," she said brightly.

"Very well," grumbled Anna. "Let's head back to the ship."

They turned to discover that a group of villagers had entered the room, accompanied by several men in European garb. "What is this?" demanded one who seemed to be their leader.

"They look like spies, Mister Galt," said one of the villagers. "It must be those Russians they told us about at the post office."

"I ain't Russian!" pouted Nettie.

The villagers glanced at her and nodded appreciatively. Brilliant move! thought Fleming. Keep that up and we'll get out of this without any hassles.

"But she is!" the girl continued, pointing at Anna.

"Now what did you have to do that for?" Fleming muttered.

"You're Communists, here to ferret out our plans," said Galt.

"I am not a Communist!" Anna exclaimed indignantly. "I am a member of the..." her voice trailed off as if she'd thought better of what she'd been about to say. Fleming decided this might be time for some diplomacy.

"Who are you mates?" he asked cheerfully.

"We are neoclassical moral philosophers," said Galt, "here to teach these islanders the virtues of free markets, laissez-faire capitalism, private initiative, and the evils of government regulation."

"That sounds like a tough row to hoe," said Fleming.

"And so it might have been," Galt admitted, "but fortunately for us, these people already have legends of some ancient utilitarian deity who sleeps beneath the waves and will rise again when social conditions are right to sweep away government intervention. It was easy to combine these beliefs with modern economic theory."

"Adam Smith knows the gate! Adam Smith is the gate! Adam Smith is the key and guardian of capitalist production!" chanted one villager.

"That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange eons, free markets will achieve the best possible allocation of a nation's economic resources!" chanted another.

"Bonzer, mates," said Fleming. "And what are you going to do with us?"

The cult leader thought this over. "Well, we could knock you on the head and dump you in the harbor, but that seems wasteful, so I believe we'll sell you as slaves."

"Do we have to sell the cute one?" whispered one of his henchmen. Galt glared and the man fell silent.

"There are laws against slavery!" Anna protested.

Galt shrugged. "The government shall not infringe on my right to infringe on other people's rights."

"That hardly seems fair," objected Fleming.

"Morality must ensure the greatest good for the greatest number," Galt said smugly. "And there are more of us than there are of you."

As Fleming was considering his reply, their debate was interrupted by a burst of automatic weapons fire. They glanced toward the door to see Jake cradling a Thompson submachine gun in his arms. The gangster flashed the cultists a grin.

"There may be more of youse," he announced, "but we's got more firepower."

Galt muttered what Fleming assumed was an imprecation. "Fhtagn!"

Next week: An Official Presence...

Comments about Episode 240? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit