The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 524: This Is A Baron-free Workplace

Engraved pylon

MacKiernan lifted ship as soon they were back at the station. There might not have been any reason to anticipate trouble from the locals, but with the Warfields on the scene, it didn't seem wise to linger. Now the R-83 was droning into the night at what passed for her top speed. This was not have been particularly remarkable, but with moon-rise still hours away, their adversaries would have no chance of finding them even if they recalled the Drachen to join the search.

Miss Perkins stood by the window, gazing aft where Neumecklenburg had vanished into the darkness. What was she thinking, wondered the Irishman? Had Michaelson given her secret instructions for this eventuality?

"It appears that the Warfields have switched sides again," he remarked -- anything to break the silence.

Miss Perkins sighed. "Perhaps," she replied, "but I doubt they've ever been on anyone's side but their own."

"You're most certainly correct," MacKiernan said ruefully. "I wonder how the Captain will react to their reappearance. We know that he and the Baroness were once close."

"I wonder about Captain Michaelson," said Miss Perkins. "He hides it well, but I've gathered he has some history there too. I've never dared ask what this might be."

MacKiernan nodded. There were very few things one dared ask the senior captain. He decided to change the subject. "There is also the coincidence of the Warfield's arrival when we happened to be in port," he observed. "Could this have been Karlov's work?"

The secretary seemed to brighten at the propect of a puzzle. "It's difficult to see how he could have contrived this or how it would be to his advantage," she mused, "but it does seem the sort of thing he might do. We'll wish to determine if he's been seen in this vicinity."

"We'll need to find resupply first," said MacKiernan, "We didn't have time for this at Namatami, and I'm loathe to do this in German territory with the Fat Man's people about."

"Can we make Port Moresby?" asked Miss Perkins.

MacKiernan glanced at the ballast board, where Wilcox's erratic scrawls contrasted with Smade's block-like characters. "That would dip too far into our reserves," he decided. "I suppose we might try Goodenough Island, but it's an obvious place for an adversary to maintain agents, and we're too well known there to avoid notice."

"What about this place called Woodlark Island?" she asked, pointing to a small dot on the chart, some distance east of New Guinea. "With a name like that, I imagine it's a Crown possession."

MacKiernan consulted the entry in the Almanac. This took very little time. "It's most certainly obscure, but it appears that they have an air station," he reported. "We'll give the place a try."

The first European visitor to Woodlark Island, one George Grimes, was an Australian whaling captain who named it after his ship. No one had ever seen fit to change this appelation. Even the islanders, whose original name for their home may have been something like `Murua' or `Moroa', didn't seem to object. Their readiness to sign aboard visiting ships suggests they didn't feel a strong attachment to the island.

The discovery of gold in the 19th century did little to rescue the place from obscurity. Gold might have been more profitable than whales -- and also more portable -- but the lodes were soon worked out, and by the end of the War, fewer than a dozen miners remained.

MacKiernan made landfall in the morning, anticipating delays in the mooring operation. Predictable, no handling party was waiting at the grandly named Guasopa Bay Royal Air Station, and Abercrombie was forced to abseil down to organize one. The evolution that followed was a triumph of brute force over organization, with the Scotsman providing most of the force, but finally the R-83 was riding from the mast.

The station's manager -- an elderly Australian planter who must have doubled as an administrator on the rare occasions his facility received a visit -- was waiting when MacKiernan and Miss Perkins emerged from the lift He seemed unconcerned by his staff's performance. "G'day!" he annuonced. "I'm Captain George Felton, 1st Australian Commonwealth Horse (ret). How may I help you?"

"I am Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this my civilian adjutant, Miss Perkins. We will be wanting resupply."

"No worries," chuckled the Aussie. "When I saw your ship, I thought you might be that baron back again."

MacKiernan felt a twinge of apprehension. "A baron?" he said. "Do you happen to recall his name?"

"It was Wartheel, Wharfhill, something like that," said the planter. "He called here with his lady. That was one crook shiela!"

The airmen exchanged glances. "Whatever were they doing here?" asked Miss Perkins

"They've been mining for gold near the old temple. A waste of effort that -- the place was played out long before the War."

MacKiernan wondered if his host meant `Great', `Boer', or `Franco-Prussian', but it seemed impolite to ask. "I must admit to some interest in the site," he said. "Could you provide us with a guide?"

The trail wasn't very long -- the concepts of `long trail' and `Woodcock Island' were mutually exclusive -- and they reached the temple by noon. This stood at the head of a meadow where some quality of the soil, caprice of the weather, or ancient curse restricted the vegetation to grass and a few modest shrubs. It consisted of a modest stone plinth, surrounded by a jumble of rocks that might once have formed a wall. It seemed they weren't the only ones interested in the site, for uniquely ugly blimp rode from a temporary mast nearby

"That's a Coastal Class," marveled Miss Perkins. "Could this be that Russian fellow who keeps gadding about the Pacific?"

MacKiernan sighed. "It's difficult to imagine who else it might be. Let's see what he's up to this time."

They spotted a middle-aged man in tropical clothing sketching a carving on the face of the plinth. This reminded MacKiernan of the so-called `squidbats' the American industrialist, Mister Cartwell, had been looking for the year before. The man glanced up as they approached.

"Zdravstvujtye," he said. "I am Professor Otkupshchikov. Welcome to my field site."

"I am Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan and these are my companions, Miss Perkins and Abercrombie," said the Irishman. "I take it you're indulging in some archaeological inquiry?"

"Da," said the Russian. "My late colleague, Karolek Solovyov, hypothesized that the indigenous culture contains elements that originated in the Baltic. This image is an example. It has obvious similarities to the Kraken of Scandinavian folklore. I grateful to his student for telling of this place."

Baltic? thought MacKiernan. He'd never heard anything more implausible. He was about to ask if Otkupshchikov knew anything of the Warfields when he had a disturbing thought. "This student," he asked. "Might his name have been Karlov?"

"Da!" the professor said cheerfully. "Why do you ask?"

Next week: What Trouble Could They Possibly Get Into Next?...

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