R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 23: Delayed in Darwin

Darwin Fish: Wholesale and Retail

BANG!

The airmen ducked as the flask exploded, showering the lab bench with broken glass.

"You see the problem?" said Dabney, after their ears had stopped ringing.

"I thought you said your hydrogen met Royal Navy standards for purity," said Sarah.

"Those were drawn up before the War," Jenkins observed," and they haven’t been changed since. Commanders with an interest in self-preservation..." he nodded toward Captain Everett, "...insist that their supply meets modern German standards."

"This is true," said Everett, "Pure hydrogen, as we all should remember from chemistry class, will not burn. It’s the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen that causes problems. And the old Royal Navy specification allows for too much oxygen, as we have just seen. When did you notice that air had leaked into the system?"

"I try to test it every day," said Dabney, "but we’re undermanned, so this isn’t always possible. The last time I checked was two days ago, and the hydrogen was almost 100% pure then, so the leak must have developed sometime during the past 48 hours. But the gas still met Navy standards, so none of the alarms went off."

"I suggest you vent this lot immediately, before there’s a tragedy," said Everett. "As presiding flight officer, I will take responsibility for this action. How long will it take to find and repair the leak?"

The station commander frowned. "That’s up to Mister Channel. I’ll need skilled workers, and he’s taken charge of the labor pool."

Everett nodded thoughtfully. The previous Administrator of the Northern Territory, Frederick Urquhart, had acquired a considerable amount of power during his long and violent career. After his retirement, some of that power had fallen into questionable hands. "Do what you can ," he replied. "I’ll send some of my people to help."

"What do you think, sir?" asked Jenkins, when they were safely out of earshot of the office.

"I wonder at these coincidences," said Everett. "Their hydrogen plant was fine for months, but developed a leak just before we arrived. This leak was subtle enough to escape ordinary detection, but bad enough to be dangerous. There’s also the matter of the handling party. We were given to understand that the wireless here was shut down for repairs, but that crew was waiting when we arrived."

"You suspect Dabney?" asked Sarah, incredulous. The young Australian officer hardly seemed the type to sabotage his own air station.

"No, but I wonder about the police chief: this George Channel. He sounds like an unsavory character. And we did remain in wireless communication with Cairns, so Captain Michaelson could have sent him word of our movements by telegraph."

"You think the two were in collusion?" asked Jenkins.

"We must not discount this possibility," said Everett. "The captain does have a reputation."

"They would have used a private code," mused Jenkins, "to keep their communications secret, but there should still be some record in the station logs."

"Then we’ll have to find a way to examine those logs. Let’s see what the others have discovered."

They made their way back to the mooring mast, where the Flying Cloud, his Majesty’s Airship R-505, rode proudly in the warm tropical sun. Everett slowed to admire her lines -- like a smaller version of Barnes Wallis’s famous R-100. They still had no idea where the vessel had come from. It had been two weeks since they’d captured her from the German arms smugglers two on the nameless island in New Caledonia where they’d also met Sarah and Pierre, but they’d yet to find any clues regarding her origin.

"Miss Sarah," Everett asked after they’d all gathered in the ship’s mess hall, "what is the status of our consumables?"

"We’re down to 60% hydrogen, and both emergency fuel tanks are gone. We have 1100 gallons remaining in the main tanks and 8,000 lbs of ballast. We also seem to be low on food." The girl wagged her finger at the assembled men. "Someone’s been taking unauthorized snacks."

Everett waited for the laughter to subside, then turned to Abercrombie. "How long will it take to fabricate new tanks from scratch? We don’t want to draw them from stores and have Michaelson accuse us of wasting inventory."

"Two or three days," said the rigger, "if we can use the equipment here at the station."

"Good. Get started immediately. Mister Iwamoto, how are the engines?"

"Number One and Three are good. Number Two run hot. Need overhaul cooling system."

"How long will this take?"

"For quick job, one hour. For good job, three day."

"Let’s do a proper job. It looks like we’ll have the time."

"Have ye any idea when we’ll get our hydrogen, sir?" asked MacKiernan.

"I bet we never get it," muttered Abercrombie. "A shilling says we’ll be stuck here tae rot in this tropical clime."

"Yer on!".

"Gentlemen," interrupted Everett. "We have other matters to discuss. Davies, what did you discover in town?"

"I visited the offices of the Northern Territory News, pretending I wanted to review their weather records, and looked through the shipping reports for some mention of the freighter we found. It appears that the Viking Girl arrived here in May and left eighteen days ago."

"And Loris estimated that the wreck had been abandoned for two weeks," said Everett. "This suggests they were attacked shortly after they left. Did you discover anything else?"

"Yes, sir. Two after they departed, a steamer named the Canard arrived... and left the very same day."

"The same day?" said MacKiernan. "That’s rather odd behavior for a tramp steamer. And isn’t ‘canard’ the French word for ‘duck’? There was that steamer named the Duck docked at the village where we captured this airship."

"So there was," mused Everett. "This is most definitely food for thought. We will need more information. Pierre, did you had a chance to look over Channel’s mansion?"

"Oui," said the Frenchman. "It is a fine piece of architecture, with walls that would be easy to scale, and window latches of a notoriously vulnerable design. But we’ll need a distraction to draw the staff away."

"I have a plan for that," said Everett.

"Are you suggesting we break into the Police Chief's home to examine his private correspondence?" asked Lieutenant Iverson, scandalized.

"It’s standard practice in situations such as these," said Everett calmly. "Jenkins, do you think you can handle the telegraph office?"

The signalman nodded. "This should not be a problem if I use the Cloak of Invisibility."

Next week: Poor Reception...

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