The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 418: Truk Stop

A hydrogen pump?

The R-46 might have been able to reach some of the sites on the Administrator's list in a single leg, but MacKiernan remained unwilling to strain his vessel's limited capabilities, so he called at Truk for resupply. This atoll consisted of a 40-mile wide lagoon enclosing dozens of islands ranging in size from several square miles down to anonymous specks of coral and sand. Once part of the Spanish colonial empire, it had passed into German possession after the Spanish-American war. The Germans were still wondering how they'd ended up with it.

Weno, the capital, was a sizable village on the northern shore of Moen Island. Like all German administrative centers in the Pacific, it was an incongruous superposition of the Teutonic passion for order on a culture whose traditions took a markedly different form. In this case, the hybrid seemed to be a happy one, and the airmen disembarked to find the islanders hard at work with shovels and rollers preparing the grounds for some athletic contest. The nature of this contest was not immediately clear, but the presence of several women weaving nets suggested it might have something to do with fish.

The local Administrator greeted them with a smile. "Guten tag, Kapitänleutnant," he told MacKiernan. "I remember your visit with Kapitän Everett during that business with the opera singer. I see they've given you the R-46. You have my sympathy."

MacKiernan suppressed a frown at the implied slight to his command. The man meant well. "We appreciate your hospitality," he said politely. "Your people seem rather busy today."

The German nodded. "We're getting ready for the inter-island tennis tournament. We'll be playing the Cho-cho next week. What brings you to our archipelago?"

MacKiernan considered his reply. It might not be appropriate to reveal the details of his mission, but they could benefit from the Administrator's assistance, and the man had proved himself trustworthy during their search for Notariello. "We're continuing our investigation of the Fat Man's nationalists," he said. "Have they been active here since the events of last year?"

"Not on Moen," said the Administrator, "but I don't have resources to keep watch on all of the out-islands. If you wish to examine these yourselves, I'll be happy to place a launch at your disposal."

MacKiernan decided to take the Administrator up on his offer. This would be an opportunity to bring Lieutenant Wilcox along on a mission and take the lad's measure. For lack of any better alternatives, he decided they'd investigate the village on Totiw where the Fat Man's people had maintained their base. Two hours of steaming brought them to the settlement.

"This place looks deserted, sir," Wilcox said after they were ashore.

"That may be true," MacKiernan told him, "but our adversaries might have left some clues behind when they abandoned it. Let us see what we can find."

The buildings were in remarkably good condition after a year of neglect. German workmanship appeared to be winning the contest with tropical weather. This workmanship extended to things other than buildings.

"Sir, stop!" warned Wilcox.

MacKiernan looked where the lieutenant was pointing to see a trip wire stretched across their path. Wilcox picked up a handy stick and gave the wire a prod. There was a click, a whoosh, and a scythe-bladed pendulum hurtled through the air in front of them to embed itself in a wall.

The lieutenant gave the thing a tap. "A nice piece of work," he remarked, "but the triggering mechanism was rather exposed."

"A design deficiency for which we must feel some gratitude," said MacKiernan. "Let us find out what these people have gone to so much trouble to protect."

A search of the outlying bungalows revealed little of significance, though the airmen did come upon some intriguing clues regarding the former occupant's romantic endeavors. The center of the village was dominated by what appeared to be an administrative building. MacKiernan had stepped onto the veranda and was reaching for the door when Wilcox tugged his sleeve.

"Sir," he warned, "we might wish to take some precautions."

The lieutenant reached into his pocket to produce a length of string, tied one end of this to a short stick, then lashed the stick to the doorknob. Satisfied with his work, he stepped back and gave the string a tug. As the doorknob turned, a trapdoor dropped open to reveal a pit floored with spikes. These were coated with a substance MacKiernan very much doubted was medicinal.

"These fellows didn't go out of their way to make their visitors feel welcome," he observed.

"They might have had a more liberal definition of the term `welcome' than the one to which we're accustomed," said Wilcox.

"Perhaps," MacKiernan said skeptically. "Let's see what other welcomes they've prepared for us."

The building proved to be riddled with traps. For the next several hours, MacKiernan watched as Wilcox found and deactivated a succession of lethal mechanisms. These were remarkable in their profusion. How, he wondered, had the nationalists found time to plan them all? At last the airmen came to what was obviously the main office. Inside, an elaborate desk stood next to a poster of Gary Cooper and Clara Bow in William Wellman's new film, `Airships'.

Wilcox gestured toward the poster. "That's the sort of decoration that screams, `There's a safe behind me'," he observed.

"It also seems to scream `another trap'," said MacKiernan. "Would you care to speculate what form this one might take?"

The lieutenant rubbed his chin. "So far we've had the pendulum, the trapdoor, the poison darts, the electrified panel, the wire noose, the grenade in the table lamp, panels that slam shut while the room floods with poison gas, and the cobra in the umbrella stand. I imagine this will be a simple deadfall hidden in the rafters. They haven't done that one yet. If you'll wait here for a moment, I'll see if I can contrive some way to trigger it prematurely."

The lieutenant stepped outside, to return carrying a coconut. He hefted this, studied the pitch, then bowled a fast bouncer to Gary Cooper. It struck the actor's chest with a thump. This was followed by a loud crash as a massive concrete slab fell through the ceiling and smashed through the floorboards in a hail of splinters.

MacKiernan waited for the echoes to fade, then stepped forward to examine the hole in the floor. The slab seemed to have buried itself well below the water table, for a film of mud was flowing across its surface, mottled by congeries of bubbles that looked almost protoplasmic and self-luminous, forming and unforming like a myriad of temporary eyes.

"The fellow who designed this one was a bit of an overachiever," he remarked.

"Perhaps he had some extra concrete and didn't want it to go to waste," suggested Wilcox.

MacKiernan glanced at the lieutenant, but the youth maintained a straight face. "That was well done, Mister Wilcox," he said. "You seem to have a talent for this sort of thing."

The lieutenant shuffled his feet. "When I was at Dulwich, we used to balance buckets of water over doorways or hide ferrets in the tea service to embarrass the headmaster," he admitted bashfully. "This is much the same principle."

"Captain Everett was at Dulwich too," mused MacKienan. "I wonder..."

"Wonder what, sir?"

MacKiernan shook his head. "Never mind."

Next week: "...Burmah Shave!"...

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