Episode 12: Cairns Royal Air Station
They returned to the island to recover Fleming’s Lilienthal glider. The
simple aircraft had proved surprisingly useful and Everett had a feeling it
might prive useful again. By now they’d gained some experience handling the
captured airship, and her adjustable-pitch propellers -- a surprising
feature for a vessel of this class -- made it easy to maintain station
while they brought it aboard.
"What shall we do about the wreckage, Captain?" asked MacKiernan, pointing
at the bow section of their old ship, which still rose above the jungle
where they’d set it down three days before.
"It’s difficult to say," mused Everett. "If this was wartime, I suppose we’d
take measures to prevent it from falling into enemy hands, but this
situation is quite irregular." And indeed it was. They were aboard prize
of unknown provenance that they’d taken during peacetime. This vessel had
turned out to carrying smuggled arms. What the Admiralty Court would make
of this affair, he had no idea.
After some thought, he decided to leave the wreck as it was, set a course to
the southwest, and get clear of the island. As evening fell, he ordered the
engines secured and the crew to go off watch. With no land in any direction
for hundreds of miles, they could drift through the night while the men got
some much needed sleep.
The control car was quiet after the others were gone -- a dim narrow
compartment with nothing but instruments and starlight for company. Above
him, the bulk of their ship loomed against the sky like a cloud. Everett
checked the altimeter, then unwrapped their old log book to make an entry.
June 24, 1926, 2100 hrs. Lat, 23 42’ Long 169 52’. His Majesty’s Airship
Flying Lady, R-212. Our search for survivors turned up nothing, so we are en
route to the Royal Air Station at Cairns aboard the prize. With only eleven
on board, counting our passengers, it has been a challenge to work the
vessel, but the passengers have been of considerable help, and spirits
remain high. We have found no clues as to who built this ship, and our
prisoners claim to be mere hirelings, with no knowledge of the owners or
what they were about. We have radioed the Admiralty to inform them of
Setting down his pen, he studied the battered tome. It had been through a
lot: the attack, the crash, their trek through the jungle, the capture of
this ship. Soon it would become evidence at his hearing. What would happen
Cairns, Australia, was a dingy jungle town on the base of the Cape York
peninsula, some distance north of Brisbane. The southern part of the
settlement was given over to warehouses that lined the estuary and the
shores of the bay. To the north, a small residential district gave way to
fields of sugarcane and rice. A rutted dirt road, impassible in the rainy
season and not much better during the dry, ran along the beach to the
marshy field that served as an air station.
A handling party was waiting when they arrived. Everett conned the ship
through the approach, watching with approval as the ground crew picked up
the handling lines and hooked the vessel up to the traveling mast. A short
time later, they were trundling along the track to the hauling out circle,
where the ground crew would connect the stern dolly prior to hauling the
ship to one of the giant sheds that lined the end of the field.
After he was satisfied all was in order, Everett gathered up his papers and
made his aft. The station’s commanding officer, a senior captain named
Michaelson, was waiting for him at the foot of the accommodation ladder.
"Captain Everett," Michaelson asked sourly, "what the blazes is this all
about? Where is your ship? And where did this... vessel... come from?"
"It’s a long story."
"I rather imagine it is. Admiral Wentworth will be arriving from Sydney
tomorrow aboard the Tower Hill. You can explain it all to him."
Everett had given his men leave -- this seemed only fair after all they’d
been through. Now he and Iverson were escorting their two erstwhile
passengers to town. Pierre examined the houses they passed with what
Everett suspected were a jewel thief’s professional sensibilities. Ahead,
Iverson was pointing out the sights to Sarah. Everett wondered how the
townsfolk would react if they werre aware of the New Caledonian girl’s
rather alarming origins.
It was good to be back on English territory, even if it was rather different
from the well-tended village in the Midlands he called home. But parrots
seemed a fair substitute for starlings, the jungle-covered hills were a
satisfactory shade of green, and the sound of children singing in a nearby
schoolyard brought a wave of nostalgia.
"How old is that tooloo in the rilyay?
The one with the waggley nose!
How old is that tooloo in the rilyay?
I wish that its time would get close!"
"Your lieutenant seems enamored of the young mademoiselle," said Pierre,
indicating the couple ahead of them. "I hope he’s prepared to accept zee
Everett had been wondering the same thing himself. "She seems like a
remarkable young lady," he observed. "I don’t mean to be untoward, but did
"The thought most certainly crossed my mind," said Pierre. "As a Frenchman,
I have a reputation to uphold. But she had a spear, and eet was very sharp.
She also has a tendency to talk, at great length, at the most inappropriate
moments. This ees the very antithesis of romance."
Everett nodded, recalling the girl he’d fled to join the Service, years
ago. He’d often wondered what had become of her. He imagined she’d found her
calling as a telephone operator, racetrack announcer, or auctioneer.
"Was Sarah’s father really a cannibal who worshipped pagan gods?" he asked.
"I do not think so. I gather that he was an enthusiastic reader of Thomas
Huxley’s essays and a confirmed vegetarian. But hees wife was another
matter. She was trained as a Presbyterian missionary, but she seems to have
developed a novel interpretation of church teachings, particularly with
regard to the Doctrine Of Transubstantiation. And the young mademoiselle
appears to have taken after both of her parents."
"Interesting," said Everett, turning the implications over in his mind.
"Well, young Iverson comes from a good family, so I suppose he’ll make the
best of it. If she doesn’t make the best of him first."
"What will happen to us now?" Pierre asked.
"As our passengers, you’re free to go," Everett replied. "You’re outside
French jurisdiction, and I imagine you’ll have plenty of time to disguise
yourself and assume a new identify before they learn of your escape.
Assuming, of course, that you are not in disguise aready."
The Frenchman smiled.
"As for the girl," continued Everett. "The Admiralty can provide her with
papers, and I can see to it that she receives proceeds from some of the
cargo we impounded, so she won’t lack for resources. I suppose the rest is
up to her."
"What about you?"
Everett glanced at the Frenchman, surprised by the man’s concern. "The
Admiralty will hold a hearing tomorrow. If they approve of our actions, all
will be well. Indeed, I would expect most of the men to receive
"And if they don’t approve?"
"Oh, they’ll execute us as pirates."
Next week: Admiralty Court...