Episode 509: Marvels Strange And Terrific
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 principle 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 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
"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
"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
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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