The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 379: The Nationalist Inquiry

Long spear vs short clubs

Everett made two marks on the chart: one at Futuna, the other in the Solomon islands. He studied the result, then shook his head and reexamined the message Jenkins had handed him.

"The USN Sunnyvale is reported to have called at both of these locations during the morning watch of August 15th?" he asked his aide.

"Yes, sir," said Jenkins.

"We're quite certain of this information?"

Jenkins nodded. "Our attaché in Pago Pago vouches for its reliability."

"The two sites are some distance apart," Everett observed. "Mister Iverson, if an airship left one at dawn, how fast would it have had to travel to reach the other before the beginning of the forenoon watch?"

The lieutenant measured the distance, consulted the ephemeris, and did a quick calculation. "The sun rises half an hour later in the Solomons, so it would depend on where they started," he replied. "Westbound, they'd have two hours to cover 844 nautical miles, which works out to 422 knots. Eastbound, the time available for travel drops to one and a half hours, which would push the number up to 565."

"That's close to the speed of sound," Everett said dryly. "It's safe to assume aircraft will never be able to travel that fast. This suggests two ships were involved."

The conclusion was obvious. "One will have been our friends on the mysterious cruiser," said Jenkins. "We have no way of knowing which."

"A shilling says it was the one at Futuna," Abercrombie whispered to MacKiernan.

"You're on!" MacKieranna whispered back.

Everett did his best to ignore this exchange. "We will wish to investigate both sites," he said. "We'll begin with Futuna, since it's closer."

At an economical cruising speed, it would take the Flying Cloud almost a day to cover the 1100 nautical miles between American Samoa and Futuna. This left Everett plenty of time to reflect. After he'd taken the noon sight, he retired to his cabin to make an entry in the log.

20-August-1927, 1200 hrs. Lat 15 25' S, Long 17 20' W. Investigations on Tutuila uncovered evidence of German and Japanese nationalist interest in the USN Sunnyvale. Suspecting the former's intentions to be hostile, we have resolved to shadow the American vessel. This task may be complicated by the difficulty of distinguishing between sightings of it and the mysterious cruiser.

While he waited for the ink to dry, he considered what they knew of the Fat Man's plans. These seemed improbably ambitious. How could the German nationalists possibly hope to hijack the Sunnyvale? The prospect was daunting. This was no lightly-manned civilian vessel; it was a major naval unit, with more than 70 officers, crew, and marines. He felt he'd missed something -- some important detail that would transform the situation entirely. But what could it be?

They reached Futuna early the next morning. After three visits in as many months, the air station at Leava seemed all too familiar -- four tall masts accompanied by a modest hydrogen plant and fuel depot. There was no sign of the cruiser, whoever it had been. The only airships present were a French government packet and a small Astra-Torres patrol vessel. After the Flying Cloud had been walked to her mooring, Everett sent MacKiernan and Abercrombie to make inquiries at the Government House while Iverson and Sarah learned what they could in town.

The Resident seemed amused by their return. "Back so soon, monsieurs?" he told his guests. "If you're here for the opera, I'm afraid you're too late. They departed last week."

The two airmen exchanged glances. "Opera?" asked MacKiernan.

"Oui!" said the Frenchman. "The tenor was magnificent, as was the leading lady."

"That's all very well," said the Irishman, "but did you happen to notice..."

"Notariello's rendition of Nessun Dorma in Pucinni's Turandot was a work of supreme artistry. Miss Hupa was a work of artistry as well. I shall treasure my memory of their visit. It's not every day I am privileged to experience such a performance."

MacKiernan noted an element of ambiguity in the Resident's statement. He also noted that it had nothing to do with the purpose of their visit. It took some effort to divert their host from his recollections, but at last they were able to establish that a large American cruiser, ZR-87, had called in company with a Los Angeles class light cruiser and one of the new Tucumcari class patrol vessels. Their crews had been granted shore leave -- a circumstance that left considerable evidence regarding their nationality, and might offer more in the future.

"We can safely assume these were not the Japanese in disguise," MacKiernan told Abercrombie as the two made their way back to the ship.

"Aye," the Scotsman said glumly.

MacKiernan smiled. "Pay up."

Iverson and Sarah strode through the village, attracting glances as they passed. Even on an island filled with beautiful woman, Sarah stood out, though some of this might have been due to her spear. She paused to examine a playbill tacked to a wall.

"Look, John," she told her companion. "We know this fellow."

Iverson studied the poster. It announced that the noted tenor, Antonio Notariello, would be performing Turandot by Giacomo Puccini the week of August 14.

"Him again," he marveled. "Let's hope he's not carrying another secret component for another secret weapon."

Sarah chuckled. "I suspect that was a singular event. Whatever was he doing here on Futuna?"

"Muddying the waters, I imagine," said Iverson. "If this was at all like the opera on Truk you told me about, these people will be talking about nothing else."

The lieutenant's prediction proved correct. By the time he and Sarah paused for lunch, they'd learned more than they ever wanted to know about arias, cadenzas, coloratura, and librettos, but nothing whatsoever about visiting naval units.

"Our morning has not been particularly informative," he observed. "We should split up so we can cover more ground."

"Do you think this wise?" Sarah asked. "What if one of us runs into trouble?"

Iverson glanced at their surroundings. These could have served as a demonstration for the word `indolent'.

"This doesn't seem likely," he observed. "We'll meet here for tea."

Iverson's afternoon wasn't significantly more informative than his morning. It does one little good to cover more ground if this proves unproductive. He was making his way back to the cafe when a shopkeeper drew him aside.

"You seek la connaisance?" he asked.

Iverson guessed this word meant `information'. "Yes," he replied cautiously.

The man clapped his hands in delight. "It is magnificent!" he exclaimed.

"I take it you're talking about the singer?" sighed Iverson.

"No, I'm talking about the reward I shall receive for turning you over to those Allemands."

Iverson turned to see three men with Teutonic features menacing him with clubs. "Captain Everett," said one. "It was unwise of you to come here alone."

Iverson raised an eyebrow, then realized the man must be talking to him. "I'm not the Captain," he replied. "I'm just a lieutenant. Look at my sleeve. Count the stripes. That's one-and-a-half, not four."

The man's lips moved as he as he performed the relevant calculation. His face paled. "Nein!" he exclaimed to his companions. "Halt! This isn't the man we seek! This is the one whose freundin has the spear!"

"What freundin?" asked the man next to him.

Sarah cleared her throat behind them. "I believe he meant me."

Next week: Let's Try The Other One...

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