The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 509: Marvels Strange And Terrific

Map of some destinations

They sat in the R-83's mess hall, reviewing the bills of lading Smade had copied at Port Moresby's custom's office. At last Miss Perkins set down her notes. "It appears that most of Captain Phillips' cargoes came from three ports," she observed.

MacKiernan nodded. He'd expected something of this sort. "We'll want to have a look at these places," he decided. "I wonder why they always seem to come in threes."

"It may be some universal archetype that's part of the collective unconscious," said Smade.

They others glanced him in surprise. It was unusual for the lieutenant to volunteer information, or anything else for that matter. At last Smade became aware of their scrutiny. Whatever his own archetype might have been, it wasn't one that involved over-fast reactions. "This would be one of the archaic patterns and images that constitute the psychic counterpart of instinct," he remarked helpfully.

"Right," said MacKiernan. "Be this as it may, the cargoes were cement from Kupang, bitumen from Bau-Bau, and rice and sappanwood from Bima. All three ports are in the Dutch East Indies. The flight there may challenge our resources, but I believe we can manage. To work, gentleman."

They began their inquiries at Kupang. The principal port on West Timor, it was convenient place for resupply. It was also the gateway to the Dutch East Indies for vessels arriving from east and south. They approached with circumspection, for previous visits had revealed that the Resident was sympathetic to the Fat Man's activities. It was well that they did.

"An diabhal!" exclaimed MacKiernan, gesturing toward the Number Three mast, where a 5 million cubic feet airship with Argentine lines rode from a mooring. "What are they doing here?"

"It that the vessel the German nationalists hijacked in Port Moresbey last year?" asked Miss Perkins.

"Aye," said MacKiernan. "They seem to have renamed her..." he glanced through his binoculars, "...the Augusta Victoria, but if you look, you can see how they altered the accommodation section after they took her. I imagine it now hides a battery of SK L/40s."

"Do you think they noticed our ship?" Wilcox asked nervously.

MacKiernan thought his over. "It shouldn't matter," he decided. "There's nothing to distinguish from us from a dozen of other Wollesley class vessels in the South Pacific."

"What if they connect the R-83 with Cairns?" asked the lieutenant.

MacKiernan rapped one of the girders, begin careful not to rap too hard. "They're unlikely to suspect that a vessel of this antiquity could possibly be of importance. I wonder if that's why Michaelson chose her. We'll make an unobtrusive check of the records here, then leave before they can realize their mistake."

Their next destination, Bau-Bau on Buton Island, was as insignificant as Kupang was important. Its facilities were limited to a wharf, a few modest warehouses, and Bau-Bau Bitumen of Buton. As they approached the grandly-named Betoambari Air Station, they noticed an unusual visitor in the harbor.

"That's one of the Kaba class destroyers the Japanese built in 1915," Wilcox announced after he'd leafed through their copy of Jane's. "She's 810 tones, with one quick-firing 4.7 inch gun, four 13-pounders, four 53 cm torpedoes, a complement of 94, and a 9,500 hp triple-expansion engine that gives her 30 knots. Whatever is she doing here?"

"I wonder that as well," said MacKiernan. "Keep the crew at flight stations while Miss Perkins and I find out."

Inquiries at the air station established that the visitor was registered as a fisheries patrol named the Ume, which Miss Perkins translated as 'Plum Tree'. MacKiernan greeted this news with skepticism.

"No one takes their fisheries that seriously," he observed. "She must belong to our Japanese nationalist friends."

"They can hardly have failed to notice our arrival," said Miss Perkins. "Do you think they recognized our ship?"

"A Wollesley should be every bit as anonymous here as it was in Kupang," said MacKiernan. "but I wonder if they might recognize us personally."

Miss Perkins shook her head. "We shouldn't need to worry on that score. I imagine that all Westerners look alike to them."

Like Kupang, Bau-Bau hadn't received any recent visits by the Insmouth Shadow. This left Bima, in eastern Sumbawa, in the Sunda Islands. Part of the eponymously named Sultanate of Bima, established by Kingdom of Makassar toward beginning of the 17th Century, it had fallen under Dutch control a generation later when the East India Company brought Makassar's short-lived period of expansion to an end. The VOC, mindful of the adage about taking care not to harm the goose that laid golden eggs -- or sappanwood, as the case may be -- had taken control of exports and foreign policy, but left their new client state intact.

MacKiernan left Wilcox and Smade to handle resupply while he set off with Miss Perkins and Abercromie to investigate the port district. It was still the rainy season, but clouds had drawn away to reveal the tip of Mount Tambora, far to the west. The peak looked serene from this this distance, with no evidence of eruption of 1815 that had wreaked such havoc on the world's climate. The port itself was somewhat less tranquil.

"There's a fair bit ay shipping here," observed Abercrombie, gesturing at the vessels that crowded the harbor.

"So there is," admitted MacKiernan. "We'll call at the custom's office first, then speak with the local merchants. If necessary, we'll hire a boatman to inspect all those vessels individually, but let us hope it doesn't come to that."

A visit to the custom's office established that the Insmouth Shadow was in port... somewhere. As they inquired along the waterfront to determine where this might be, they were accosted by four burly Asian men in dark clothing. One carried a pair of swords, another bore a staff, the third hefted two short wooden flails, while the fourth was armed with what looked like serving forks.

"Baron and Baroness Warfield," said the first, in an accent that was quite clearly Japanese. "You were foolish to come here with only your butler."

"Whatever are you talking about," MacKiernan said in surprise. "We're English airmen."

Their assailant laughed. "You think you westerners all look alike to us. We recognize your ship, we recognize your servant by reputation, and we were warned of your approach by our agents on Buton Island."

MacKiernan began to object, then frowned. The Warfields' airship was an American copy of Wollesley. He hadn't counted on this similarity, but perhaps he could turn it to their advantage. "You have penetrated our disguise," he admitted. "Still, we're your allies. Our presence here should hardly concern you."

The other man gestured to his companions, who spread out to flank them. "It does if you are looking for Howard Phillip."

"Do not call up that which you cannot put down!" came a voice from their right. They turned to see a tall man in sea-captain's garb emerge from an alley, accompanied by several sailors armed with an assortment of heavy nautical implements. At his command, they charged the Japanese and put them to flight. He watched this with some satisfaction.

"I'm Howard Phillips," he told the airmen. "Those guys have been following me all over the Java Sea. I gave their destroyer a slip in Jakarta, but then they turned up here. Why were they after you?"

"We're trying to locate a man named Karlov," said MacKiernan. "We believe you might know something of his whereabouts."

The captain sighed. "So it's about Karlov. I should have guessed."

Next week: It Should be A Simple Errand...

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