Episode 15: His Majesty’s Airship, The Flying Cloud
"We still need five more airmen to make a crew of seventeen," said Everett
"Where are we going to find them, sir?" asked Davies. "We’ve already
advertised for civilian volunteers and gone through the list of
malingerers Michelson offered us, and I’ve asked around the marine
barracks with no luck."
The eight survivors of the Flying Lady had gathered in a tin-roofed
outdoor café at one end of the Cairns Royal Air Station along with the two
companions, Pierre and Sarah, they’d rescued from the French penal colony
in New Caledonia. Pierre was examining his dinner as if uncertain of its
species. Sarah, of sterner stuff, was consuming hers calmly, slicing the
thin steaks of some nameless animal with a drawing room delicacy entirely
in keeping with her refined features and dress, but somewhat at odds with
her complexion and background. A pair of delicate bone earrings, carved in
the shape of fish, hung from her ears. Everett frowned when he remembered
"Fleming," he asked, putting these thoughts from his mind, "did you get
any replies from your friends in the soaring community?"
"I spoke with the president of the Cape York Lilienthal Association," said
the Aussie, "and it appears the only man who might have been interested was
taken by a croc during a trip to Cookstown."
"A pity, that," mused Everett. "Wallace?"
"I’ve been to the bars, Captain. Nothin’ there."
"How about the rest of you?"
One by one the others shook their heads.
"This is not looking very promising, sir," Jenkins observed. "If we can’t
find a crew, I imagine Captain Michelson will use this as a pretext to take
the command away from us and assign it to one of his cronies.
"Don’t worry, Jenkins," said Everett. "Matters are not as bad as they
appear." Indeed, they were worse. Knowing Michelson, he imagined the man
would try to cashier them out of the Service for indiscipline, incompetence,
and unspecified moral failings.
"I would be happy to serve aboard your airship as a rigger," said Pierre.
Heads turned toward the Frenchman.
"Whatever for?" asked Iverson. "I thought you’d be in a hurry to get back to
"I can wait until the vessel gets rotated back to Europe," said Pierre. "In
the meantime this would allow me to drop out of sight to avoid causing
unnecessary excitement to certain authorities."
"I’d like to join too!" said Sarah.
MacKiernan looked scandalized. "A woman?" he asked, "serving aboard one of
His Majesty’s airships?"
"Perhaps she could be a cook," suggested Jenkins.
"That might not be such a good idea," said Davies, recalling the girl's
"That’s hardly relevant," said Iverson, leaping to Sarah's defense. "Her
people may have been cannibals in the distant past, but they have reformed
their habits, and her father is a vegetarian."
"That’s just my point!" said Davies. "I don’t want any bleedin’ vegetarian
food at the end of my watch!"
"I don’t believe vegetarian food bleeds," said Jenkins.
"I could be a rigger," suggested the girl. "I can climb just as well as
"This may be true," said Everett, recalling how she’d scrambled up the
mooring mast, dressed only in tights, the night they took the ship, and
cringing at the thought of trying to maintain discipline aboard a vessel
where such behavior was regular practice, "but since you do have some
skill at mathematics, I believe it might be better if you continued to
serve as ballast officer and quartermaster. There is a long tradition of
female auxiliaries serving in this capacity aboard His Majesty’s vessels
that dates back to the reign of George V."
"But, isn’t he king right now?" Fleming whisprede to Davies.
"I imagine this tradition began at least five minutes ago," Davies
"That still leaves us three under the minimum number we need to be
certified as flight-worthy," said Iverson. "What will we do, sir?"
"We’ll put some fake names on the books, pocket their pay, and use it to
bribe inspectors to ignore the infraction until we can find the additional
men. It’s standard practice in situations such as these."
"They never mentioned this at the Academy, sir."
"I don’t imagine they would."
Everett spent the rest of the evening filling out paperwork, some real
and some of it forgeries, to get the vessel ready for commissioning. This
was a tedious process -- another one of the prerogatives of command that
had never been mentioned at the Academy. By time the job was finished, in
the wee hours of the morning, his eyes were swimming, and he fell asleep
dreaming of RNAS-1421 forms, Issues C and D.
When Jenkins awoke him the next morning, these dreams were a thing of the
past. He hurried through breakfast with all the decorum he could muster,
endured a wait his aide adjusted the collar of his jacket, then led the
way out to the field. MacKiernan and Iverson were gazing up at the airship
when he arrived. Everett followed their gaze and noted that someone had
painted the name Flying Cloud above the control car, next to a
portrait of a clipper under full sail.
"It was Abercrombie’s idea," said MacKiernan. "The daft Scottsman does get
a good one every now and then. None of us could bear the thought o' serving
aboard a ship called the Cloud Flier, and it’s
droch-luck to change a vessel’s name, but our old ship was named
the Flying Lady, and if you combine the two, you could come up with
Flying Cloud, so he decided that’s what the Germans meant to call
her in the first place."
"I assume some money changed hands in the administration building when the
paperwork was filled?"
"Captain! I’d never admit to such a thing... no matter how guilty I
"Who did the lettering?" asked Jenkins. "It can’t have been Abercrombie;
the man can hardly sign his own."
"That was Miss Sarah’s work," said MacKiernan. "The young lady has a rare
talent for calligraphy. She did the sailing ship too."
"That is superb artistry," Iverson told Sarah when they reached the control
car. "Where did you learn to paint so well?"
Sarah beamed at him with a smile that brightened the entire bridge. "There
was an old artist in our village -- one of the French immigrants. He taught
me everything. He used to paint the most wonderful portraits and designs."
Everett paused on his way to the intercom and glanced over his shoulder at
the girl. "What kind of designs?" he asked suspiciously.
"Here," she replied, "I’ll show you!" She reached for a pad of paper,
picked up her pen, and with a few deft strokes rendered a perfect replica of
a French banknote, complete with a portrait of the goddess Minerva next to a
neatly numbered ‘10’ and the words ‘Dix Francs’.
"Interesting," said the Exec. "Can you do King George?"
"MacKiernan!" snapped Everett. "But how about the Kaiser?"
Next week: Speed Trials...