The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 393: An Archaeologist A Day Keeps The Russians Away

Scottish Socialist archeologists at the radio

Fenwick had plenty of time to reflect during the passage from Broome to the Dutch East Indies. The R-87 might have had many admirable qualities, but speed was not one of them, and the flight took most of the day. At least they didn't have to worry about attracting attention. The Wolesley class was fairly common, and there was nothing to distinguish their ship from dozens of similar naval, commercial, and private vessels that plied the skies over the Pacific.

It was late afternoon when they finally raised Sumbawa. From the south, the island was an irregular row of volcanic peaks rising above a line of jungle. One was more substantial than its neighbors, with rugged slopes that testified to some recent tectonic convulsion. Michaelson compared it with an entry in the Almanac.

"That would be Tambora," he concluded. "Apparently it had quite the eruption in 1815. We will hope it remains quiet during our visit."

Fenwick nodded. This was a sentiment he could agree with. "Volcanoes figured as a background to quite a few of this past year's events," he observed. "Could there be some connection?"

Michaelson's stare was icy. "This is only to be expected given the number of volcanoes in the Pacific, Fenwick," he admonished his aide. "If you wish to evaluate the significance of some correlation, you must also account for the possibility that correlation might have occurred by chance -- some 18th Century clergyman even wrote a theorem about this. I'm afraid you've been listening to too many radio dramas."

Fenwick did his best to hide his embarrassment, for there was some truth to the senior captain's observation. He'd particularly enjoyed the BBC's production of Sax Rohmer's Curse of the Volcano Goddess.

Sumbawa had two air stations: one at Besa and the other at Bima. It seemed the Brotherhood of Workers had called at the former, so Michaelson elected to call at the latter. This was an undistinguished field some distance south of town. An aging Vliegreis Class liner -- a Dutch copy of Germany's ubiquitous L-59 class -- rode from one of the moorings, but otherwise the place was empty. Even so, landing took some time. The handlers were anything but proficient, and there were moments when it seemed the attempt would have to be abandoned. Once they let the vessel yaw crosswise to the wind, and only some quick work with the engines kept them from being dragged across the field.

At last, after an hour of frustration, sweat, and carefully-considered language, the ship was on the mast. This was a work of some antiquity, which could plausibly have found a place in some museum of industrial history. The lift, in particular, might have served as an exhibit on Safety Hazards. Fenwick examined it with some dismay, but Michaelson stepped aboard with that peculiar air of self-assurance Englishmen of a certain social class displayed in the presence of mortal danger.

"These people don't seem particularly skillful," he remarked. "Naval intelligence didn't report any communist cells here, but if these exist, we will trust them to display a similar level of competence."

"Do you think the Soviets have anyone watching this station?" Fenwick asked.

"This seems unlikely," said Michaelson. "Everett may have called here, but they arrived at the other port well after he departed. They'd have no reason to believe he knew of their visit, and no reason to reason to anticipate our presence. We shall proceed on this assumption, travel to Besa incognito, and wait for their arrival. Once they're on a mooring, we'll radio Colson to come and catch them on the ground."

There were no cars to be hired, so the airmen were forced to book passage aboard a calash -- the local equivalent of a mail coach. Michaelson stretched out to sleep as soon as they were aboard. Fenwick clung to a strap, wedged himself into a corner of his seat, and braced himself for an ordeal. His apprehension proved justified. Traveling at night, on an unlighted road, their pace was necessarily slow, but even this seemed enough to pose a risk of bruises, concussions, and possible broken bones. As the miles passed, Fenwick found himself wondering if their trip could possibly be worth it. They might surprise their quarry, but would they be in any shape to take advantage of this?

As morning arrived, the coach stopped at a village on the shore of Saleh Bay to change horses and allow any surviving passengers to stretch their legs, recover their wits, and regenerate their kidneys. Michaelson seemed unaffected by the journey. Fenwick, limped after him, marveling at the abilities that came with command rank.

"More Englishmen," said the local mail agent. "We had some naval officers here last month. Everset and Junkman, I believe their names were."

"Indeed," Michaelson remarked with an expression of polite disinterest. "Do you get many Englishmen here?"

"No, but there's a team of Scottish archaeologists on Mount Tambora -- members of that Scottish Socialist Party. The devil knows what brought them to the Pacific. They spend all their time listening to Marxist broadcasts on the wireless and passing out literature about dialetic materialism. They don't get many visitors except for those Russian airshipmen."

Michaelson's expression hardened. "Russian airshipmen," he said carefully.

"Aye," said the mail agent. "They showed up at Besa on some ship called the Fatherhood of Turtles."

"Sir!" Fenwick whispered.

"I know," Michaelson whispered back. "We can count on those fellows to report our presence to the Soviets. It seems our trip has been wasted. We shall head back to the ship and reconsider our plans."

Loika stood at the ballast board, reviewing their fuel and ballast consumption with some satisfaction. They'd been cruising north at reduced power, taking advantage of a quartering tailwind. Passage had not been swift, but it would be economical. He'd just finished jotting down some figures when Tsukanov emerged from the radio shack. The commissar did not look happy.

"I take it there is bad news," said Loika.

"Da," said Tsukanov, "We received a coded message from those Scottish archaeologists on Mount Tambora. It seems an English ship called at Sumbawa yesterday. They aren't sure of its number, but it must be Michaelson."

Loika muttered an expletive. "That man is the devil. We'll have to choose a new destination."

"Perhaps we could try one of the French possessions. They still owe us gratitude for our sacrifices at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes," came a voice from behind them.

Loika turned to see that Karlov had entered the control car unnoticed. He frowned for a moment, then studied the chart. "That might just work," he concluded. "If we stretch our supplies, we should be able to reach New Caledonia. We can decide on a port of call along the way."

Next week: Truk Parking Only...

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