Episode 285: Several Different Equations Converge On The Same Value...
Professor Goodwin had not been entirely certain whether the supposed
squidbat photograph had come from Pago Pago or Guam. Both destinations were
equidistant from the Santa Cruz Islands, and there seemed little to choose
between them. On impulse, Mister Cartwell decided to visit Guam first. It
might take slightly longer to fly downwind and upwind than it would to fly
crosswind and downwind, but with an airship, the extra travel time would
hardly be noticeable.
Now the Philadelphian was ambling north at an airspeed of 50 knots,
helped along by a light tailwind. Captain Collins intended to reach the
air station in Agana at dawn the next day. Emily and Clarice whiled away
the time in the radio shack, `surfing the ether'. The frequencies were
always a source of entertainment. The amateur bands were alive with
detailed discussions of radio equipment, local weather, and lawn care. The
commercial messages posed some interesting challenges -- Emily spent several
minutes trying to decipher a brief coded message from the island they'd
just departed. The military transmissions were many, varied, and food for
thought. Why, wondered Clarice, would an American naval unit in the Marshal
Islands want a consignment of butterfly nets?
Sometime around mid-morning, they picked up a faint transmission from the
west. The signal was weak, torn by static, and impossible to make out.
"What could that have been?" wondered Emily. "It sounded almost like a
"Maybe someone was attacked by pirates," Clarice suggested. "Didn't Captain
Everett tell us about the `Sky Pirates of Tahiti'?"
Emily laughed. "`Sky Pirates of Tahiti'? Go on!"
"He assured me they actually met the fellows," said Clarice
"You've been paying a fair bit of attention to our Captain," Emily observed
"I don't know why you keep going on about that!" Clarice retorted. "All
that man cares about is his ship. And what about you, Miss Wilcox?
Someone's been teaching you a fair bit of Signal Corps practice. What else
have you learned?"
The brunette giggled. "That's none of your bizzo."
"Well, you're the one who started this..."
"Good day ladies," came a cheerful voice from behind them. "I'm about to
join your aunt in the saloon. Would you care to accompany me?"
The two young women considered this proposal. On the one hand, it would
mean spending some time with their aunt. On the other hand, it would
mean spending time with Mister Cartwell, whose company they'd come to enjoy.
His relentlessly good nature seemed very Australian.
"Dinki di!" they replied.
The Philadelphian's saloon was as elegant as ever. The lounges and
settees might be duraluminum and fabric rather than wood and leather, but
they made up in style what they lacked in ornamentation. The lamps might
be molded from bakelite, but the designs were by Tiffany. A powerful
modern Victrola completed the ensemble.
They found Aunt Behema listening to the noted Italian tenor, Antonio
Notariello, performing the arietta from Pagliacci. She frowned at
the interruption, then brightened as she caught sight of Mister Cartwell.
"G'day," she thundered. "I thought you were up in the control car plotting
"There's not much for me to do there," Mister Cartwell admitted. "I just
play a management role while Captain Collins does all the real work. How
have you been keeping yourself here in the saloon?"
The matron gave what might have constituted a smile for members of her
species. "Bonzer!" she replied, gesturing at the industrialist's record
collection. "This is the bee's knees."
It took Mister Cartwell a few moments to recognize this as a metaphor -- a
hazard, perhaps, of having field biology as a hobby. While the
industrialist was scratching his head, Clarice spotted something out the
"I say," she remarked, "is that an airship crossing our stern?"
Mister Cartwell followed her gaze, then held up a finger to measure
bearings and counted off the seconds. "So it is," he replied. "I'd say
they're about 20 miles behind us, heading east."
"You performed that calculation in your head?" asked Clarice.
"Well, I do design controls for a living," the industrialist said
By now Emily was peering through the binoculars that had hung from the drink
cabinet. "I don't recognize the lines, but that ship looks quite large,"
she said. "Who could they possibly be?"
Mister Cartwell shrugged. "From their course, I'd guess they're an American
cruiser bound from Mindanao to Pago Pago. We can check the dispatches after
we reach Agana."
"We have word from our allies," Wasserman announced.
The Governor set down his papers. "I assume they proceeded as we expected."
"Ja," the Dutchman said smugly. "Everett will not be able to learn
anything from the Shiratori Maru."
The Governor seemed unsurprised by this news. "Our allies are too
precipitate," he said disapprovingly. "Everett will wonder why they
destroyed the vessel, and we must not underestimate the man's
"What can he learn now?" asked Wasserman. "The people our vrienden
worried about will have gone down with the ship, and the passenger manifest
is out of his reach in Japan."
"That may be so," said the Governor, "but I wonder how he found out about
the vessel in the first place. Someone has been feeding the captain
information. We must find out who."
Wasserman thought this over. As an ambitious entrepreneur, with a liberal
attitude toward customs regulations, he had contacts throughout the Pacific.
"Shall I call in some favors in Cairns?" he asked. "If someone has an agent
at the Air Station, we should be able to learn who this man is."
The Governor shook his head. "The agent's identity is not important. We
want to know who he is working for. You will proceed to Vanatu and take
passage to Guam. That was the Shiratori Maru's next destination.
We will see who else shows up there."
"Our operator detected two transmissions from the islands we left behind,
Mein Herr," said Artur. "I have his report here."
Sigmund glanced at the papers like a predator evaluating potential prey.
"What does the man have to say?"
"The first was a brief message in some private code. There was not enough
material to decipher, but it was too short to contain any substantial
information. The second was a message in plain from the government station.
Our operator recognized the hand. It consisted of a weather report,
followed by a list of prices and ports of destination."
The Fat Man's lieutenant brushed the papers aside. "These will be
commercial messages," he said. "Copra and snail shell cultivation are
highly competitive industries, and traders are quick to seize every
possible advantage. Have we heard anything more from our quarry?"
"No, Mein Herr," Artur said cautiously. "'No' was rarely a
safe word in this particular company. "We still do not know whether
they are heading to Pago Pago or Guam."
Sigmund glanced at the Almanac, then studied the chart on the wall behind
him and jotted down some figures. At last he nodded. "They will call at
Pago Pago first," he announced. "This will allow them to begin their
journey with a crosswind leg. They will not wish to spend extra time
flying downwind to Guam and back. But we will contact our agents in both
places as a precaution."
Next week: Perhaps It's Still Goodenough...
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