Episode 13: Admiralty Court
"So, Captain Everett," said the Admiral, "can you give us any reason not to
prosecute you and your men for piracy?"
Admiral Christian Samuel Wentworth was an kindly looking gentleman, whose
picture would not have seemed out of place on a bottle of patent medicine,
but Everett didnít let the manís appearance fool him. The Admiral had a
long and distinguished record of service in the Far East, and a reputation
for asking hard questions at proceedings such as these. And the venue heíd
chosen for his court was intimidating. It may had begun life as a
schoolroom, but Wentworth had furnished it with all the trappings of
admiralty. Everett and his men sat in a row of stiff-backed chairs beneath
a slow-turning punkah fan. The Admiral sat on a tall seat behind a high
desk, flanked by his officers, a British flag, and a massive naval ensign.
Behind him, a row of stern- faced marines glared at Everett and his men
from in front of the blackboard.
Everett swallowed and tried to compose himself.
"They were smuggling arms, sir, to a penal colony no less," he replied.
"This alone would make their vessel forfeit, even if they were carrying
proper registration papers, which they did not have."
"But you had no way of knowing this before you took the airship," observed
the Admiral, "which makes your original act of boarding the vessel
questionable under any number of laws and regulations. What justification
can you offer for this action?"
"She was a German vessel making what appeared to be a clandestine visit to
a French territory. That seemed like ample cause to order an inspection."
"Which you did by sneaking aboard the vessel under cover of darkness,
overpowering her crew, releasing ballast, and dropping the mooring to drift
away into the night?"
"Under the circumstances, that seemed like the best way to proceed, sir."
"Hmm," said the Admiral, turning to his adjutant. "What do the Germans have
to say about this?"
"Itís very strange, sir. They claim to have no record of the vessel."
"But she did have a German registration number, L-505, a peculiarly
atrocious German name, Wolkenflieger, and some rather prominent
German markings on the bow and stern."
"I have spoken with the German Naval Attache, he has sent a telegram to
Berlin, and they replied with a message to the effect that the registration
numbers between 501 and 510 were never issued. He also gave me his personal
assurance that their Admiralty would never have approved of a name like
"Thatís good to know," said the Admiral with what appeared to be a sigh of
"What was the French response?" asked Michelson, who was part of the Court
as commander of the Cairns Naval Air Station. He seemed to have taken a
dislike to Everett and his men for the disorder theyíd wrought upon his
tranquil and unchallenging routine.
"They were quite incensed about the German intrusion into their territory,"
said the adjutant, "and they wholly approved of Captain Everettís behavior.
I also managed to contact the Governor in question via shortwave. He claimed
that no such airship has ever called at his island and they wouldnít have
the facilities to handle one if it did."
"Of course, that means nothing if he was a party to a smuggling operation,"
mused the Admiral. "Captain Everett, you reported that a small tramp steamer
was tied to the village wharf. Were you able to make out her name?"
"It appeared to be the Duck, sir."
"Chinese, do you think?" Wentworth asked his adjutant. "Their chefs do seem
to have a thing about ducks."
"It could also be American, sir, Their animated media features ducks rather
"And I suppose it could also be French," said the Admiral, drumming his
fingers on the desk. "Is there anyone in this part of the world who doesnít
eat ducks, keep them as pets, or watch them on the cinema?"
"We donít, sir."
"I suppose thatís true," acknowledged the Admiral. "But it isnít very
helpful." He shuffled his papers, made some notes, then set them aside. "So,
we have a mysterious vessel, origin and owners unknown, laden with
contraband, apprehended in the territory of a hostile nation for which it
did not have authorization, with a false registration to a country that
denies any knowledge of its existence.
"That appears to be the shape of it, sir."
"Crew arenít much help I suppose."
"Picked up off the docks in Tsing Tao. Donít know a thing. Or so they
"You could rough them up a bit," suggested Michelson. "Get them to talk."
"That sort of thing never works," the Admiral told Michelson sternly. "Itís
the classic Ďticking bombí argument. You captured a man you believe to be
an anarchist who has planted an infernal device. If you lock the man up and
search for the bomb yourself, thereís a good chance youíll find it. But if
you torture the fellow to get him to talk, either heíll be innocent, in
which case you learn nothing, or heíll be guilty, in which case heíll lie to
send you off on a wild goose chase. In either case, you waste a fair amount
of time, the bomb explodes, and innocent people die.
"Still," he said sternly, "all this is beside the point." He rose to his
feet and addressed the prisoners. "Captain Everett, you and your men will
remain here while this Court adjourns to reach its decision."
Michelson shot Everett a predatory glance as he followed the Admiral and
his officers out of the room. There was little doubt in Everettís mind which
way the Station Commander would vote in the hearing.
"A shilling says weíre sentenced to death as pirates," Abercrombie whispered
"Iíll be happy to take your money."
"Are you two crazy?" hissed Iverson. "How can you make these wagers when our
lives and honor are at stake?"
"And what are ye going to do, lad?" asked Abercrombie. "Sit and fret? This
way, if we die, I have the pleasure oí kenniní I won. And if we live, Iím
only out a shilling."
Iverson had no reply to this, but Everett could tell the young lieutenant
wasnít convinced. He had no words of encouragement to offer the young man,
for the matter was out of their hands. They might have to law on their side,
but the final outcome would almost certainly be determined by political and
diplomatic considerations, and whatever instructions the admiral had
received from London before he left Sydney.
He was still wondering what these might be when the door opened at the
sergeant called for them to stand to attention. Wentworth and his officers
strolled in, expressions unreadable.
"At ease, gentlemen," said the Admiral as he resumed his seat. He accepted a
folio from his aide and flipped through it to remove a sheet of paper.
"Captain Roland P. Everett," he announced. "This Court has ruled that the
airship you took is a legitimate prize under the terms of the Armistice, and
we have commissioned it as a vessel of the Royal Navy, R-505. We have an
immediate need of a vessel for a mission of some importance. None of the
regular fleet are available, so you are ordered to proceed forthwith and take
command pursuant to instructions that will be delivered after you are
onboard. Court dismissed!"
Everett breathed a sigh of relief. Behind him, MacKiernan poked Abercrombie
in the ribs and whispered.
"Yer out a shilling!"
Next week: Reasonably Gallant Gentlemen...