The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 245: A Brush With Fuller

The K-6 leaving harbor

Saketa was the very picture of a sleepy tropical port. Its harbor, sheltered from the prevailing southeasterly swell by the Weda peninsula, was tranquil and still. On the village's rickety wharf, islanders lounged next to a small schooner they seemed in no hurry to unload. Nearby, a rusting steamship lay at anchor like a prop from some particularly unimaginative movie about the South Pacific. No one appeared to take any notice of the sleek War-surplus fleet submarine that had arrived the previous day.

Fuller gave the village an idle glance, then turned to his lieutenant. "Have we heard anything from our contacts?" he asked.

"We've received word from Galela," said the other man. "It appears that Karlov disembarked there and took passage to the south."

"Are we sure this information is reliable?"

"It comes from a group known as The Fellowship of the Old Fellows, who seem to fancy themselves entrepreneurs" said his lieutenant. "I gathered they'd sell anything for money."

"Passage to the south," mused Fuller. He flipped through his copy of the Almanac to the entry for Gilolo. "Our man will be investigating native ruins near the mines at Kao and Weda," he decided. "Such things are a known interest of his. We should be able to intercept him at Weda. Has anyone else shown an interest in the fellow?"

"Perhaps," said his lieutenant. "The report was not very clear, but some parties on an airship may have been asking after him."

Fuller frowned. "Could these have been our friends in the Royal Navy?"

The other man shook his head. "The vessel had an American civil registration: N-109."

"That might be a ruse," Fuller observed. "We will not want to risk an engagement. Contact Bainbridge on the freighter and arrange for a rendezvous in Weda Bay."

At her top speed, the K-6 covered the distance from Saketa to the mouth of Weda Bay in little more than five hours. After they reached the rendezvous point, Fuller and his men shut down the boat's steam plant and submerged to wait. There was no real need for this precaution, but they did it because they could. Then the bridge crew took turns looking through the periscope -- they had never tired of this novelty.

It was the diving plane operator who finally spotted the freighter. "There she is, sir," he announced, "bearing 110, hull up on the horizon."

"Let me have a look," said Fuller. He studied the vessel, read her flags, and nodded. "They're flying the signal we agreed upon. Take us up."

Compressed air hissed, water gurgled from the ballast tanks, and the boat rose to the surface. From aft came a series of clunks and bangs as engineers began the complicated operation of erecting the funnels, turning on the ventilators, firing up the furnaces, flashing the boilers, and raising steam. Several minutes later, Fuller was clambering up a boarding net to the deck of the freighter.

Bainbridge greeted him at the top. The skipper was an old Pacific hand, bronzed by the sun, with the mandatory pipe clenched between his teeth -- Fuller hypothesized that these were handed out as badges of identification by some secret society of tropical shipowners.

"Welcome aboard the Atoll Sylph," said Bainbridge. "That's a fine submersible you have there. Will you be taking her into Weda?"

"No," said Fuller. "That might expose us to observation from the air. We'll proceed aboard your vessel instead. Do you have the equipment?"

"It's stowed below. Would you care to have a look?"

Fuller nodded and Bainbridge led him down a ladder to the holds. When they reached the bottom, the skipper undogged a hatchway, heaved it open, and switched on a hand lamp.

"There it is!" he announced.

Fuller stepped inside, lifted a tarp, and inspected what lay underneath. "Very good," he said. "That should serve."

Anna stepped down from the blimp's control car like royalty alighting from a state carriage. Behind her, someone in the handling party tossed a sandbag aboard the vessel to keep it in trim. The captain disembarked after her and indicated the village that lay before them. "This is Weda," he announced.

Anna frowned. "Are you sure?" she said dubiously.

The airman sighed. "It says so right there on the operations shack."

Anna squinted at the sign as if she suspected it of being a forgery. "Very well," she said. "I will be on my way."

The captain smiled as politely as he could. "My crew and I hope you enjoyed your flight," he told her. "And we hope you will keep us in mind next time your plans call for air travel."

"Glad to see the last of her," said the engineer after she was gone. "Who was that lady?"

"I don't know," the captain replied. "But a lot of strange people seem interested in Weda. Remember that scientist last week?"

The engineer nodded. "I wonder who else is on their way here."

Bainbridge finished backing the freighter down to the wharf and rang all stop. On the pier below, dockhands began to make fast the mooring lines. Fuller nodded in approval. "That was a nice bit of ship-handling," he observed.

The skipper nodded. "It's a skill one must learn in the islands. We can hardly expect tugboats in a port like this."

"Can we expect longshoremen?" asked Fuller.

Bainbridge laughed. "Hardly, but we can swing the cargo ashore ourselves in an hour or two."

"We're not in a hurry," said Fuller. "My men and I will take this opportunity to have a look about the town."

Weda proved to be significantly more industrious than Saketa. The visitors noticed several new warehouses next to the harbor, along with a row of huts that had been pressed into service as dormitories. Elsewhere they spotted crated donkey engines, a dragline, drums of petrol, and a stack of rails that suggested someone had plans to build a line into the interior.

"This looks like quite a substantial operation," Fuller's lieutenant observed. "It's amazing what one finds in odd corners of the Pacific."

"So it is," Fuller agreed. "Let's hope we find Karlov, so we can leave before..." he paused, eyes widening in astonishment. "Good lord, Smithers! Look over there! Is that who I think it is?"

Anna was making her way down Weda's only street, searching for a lodging house, when a voice hailed her from behind. She turned to see two well-dressed strangers -- quite obviously Englishmen -- wearing tropical attire of the sort favored by sportsmen and gentleman adventurers.

"What an unexpected surprise!" said the man who'd hailed her.

"Do I know you, sir?" Anna said icily.

"You would not remember me," the man replied, "but we met in Saint Petersburg, shortly after the War. You were younger then, and known by a different name. I am Fuller."

It didn't take Anna long to make the connection. "You're with the British Union," she said bitterly. "So Vlad betrayed me, just as I guessed."

Fuller's response took her by surprise. "The Bookseller is here too? How fortunate! We can collect the whole bag!"

The old motorship made particularly slow progress as she creaked and groaned over the swells. Peters glanced at the name stenciled on a life preserver and shook his head.

"Windsong VII,' he remarked sourly. "I wonder who's idea that was."

"It does seem peculiarly inappropriate for a vessel of this antiquity," agreed Jamison. "and it's not a particularly fast wind either."

Clement sighed. "We must look on the bright side," he observed. "I'm sure this ship will get to Weda eventually."

Next week: Haute Cuisine...

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