R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 27: Not Another Island Girl

Viking girl holding a battleaxe

Captain Everett had often heard women described as ‘statuesque’. Inevitably, he’d found himself just what sort of statues might be involved. Lawn gnomes, perhaps? Roman senators? Gargoyles?

Helga was different. She stood like something out of legend, blond tresses gleaming in the lamplight. She was tall and athletic -- a fitting match for Loris -- with a figure that seemed slender for all of its muscle. The war axe over her shoulder added a barbaric touch. It was a savage-looking weapon, and quite out of place on one of His Majesty’s Airships.

Everett sighed inwardly. More complications.

"Abercrombie," he said calmly, "might I ask what happened here?"

"We were attacked, sir, by these hijackers," replied the Scotsman. "They must hae overcome the guards. The first warning I had was Mister Iwamoto’s shout. Is he all right?"

"A mild concussion," said Davies. "He should be fine in a day or two.

"What happened then?" asked Everett.

"I grabbed a fire axe an' ran up the ladder tae find four hijackers coming down the passageway. They spread out tae take me from the side. I was preparin' tae charge an' try tae cut some down before they could surround me. Then I heard a cry and this lass appeared out of nowhere. She knocked two flat wi' the side of her axe while I took another. The last one fled toward the bow."

"We found another Russian lying unconscious next to Iwamoto," said MacKiernan.

"That can't hae been the man. He was English. I heard his voice. He must hae escaped."

The exec nodded. "Someone had dropped one of the lines from the forward handling station. That must have been our hijacker."

"And he must have know the lines were there," said Everett, "which means that he had some knowledge of this ship. I find this disturbing, since we still don’t have the slightest idea where she came from ourselves."

"I’d be wonderin’ where she came from," said MacKiernan, glancing at the woman.

"As have we all," said Everett. He offered their guest a bow. "I am Captain Roland Everett, commander of His Majesty’s Airship Flying Cloud, R-505. And who might have the honor of addressing?"

"Helga," said the woman. "From Sweden."

Everett studied the woman’s axe. It was distinctive weapon, which he’d seen before. "You were aboard the Viking Girl?"

"Ja, that Helga’s ship. Helga captain."

"I appreciate your intervention on our behalf," Everett said politely. "And you’re welcome as our guest. But may I ask how you came to be aboard?"

"We leave Darwin three weeks ago, sail east. Airship come, shoot up deck, land marines, take ship."

"That would explain the bullet holes you saw in the wheelhouse," said Davies.

"Indeed," said Everett. "They did look as if they’d been made by a machine gun firing from above. What happened then?"

"Freighter come: ship named Duck. Know her well. Captain is Dutch. Bad man. They lay alongside, take off cargo, then men go below to wreck engines. This make Helga mad, so she break free, take axe, chase men off ship. But too late. Condenser smashed and ship sinking. Helga fix leak, but engines ruined. Ship drift ashore. Then airship come: same ship as before!"

"This ship?" asked Everett in surprise. "Are you sure? You see, there are many kinds of airships: big airships, little airships, non-rigids, semi-rigids..."

"Was medium-sized patrol craft, approximately two and a half million cubic feet enclosed volume, with three engine cars mounting pusher propellers and fully streamlined hull with stabilizers set forward of tail. Like Junior Vickers Class, but with German markings."

"Yes, that sounds like this one."

"Crew ride down hoist to investigate my ship. They leave hoist down, so Helga take axe and climb aboard to investigate their ship."

"You shinnied up three hundred feet of greased wire cable carrying a battle axe?" Abercrombie asked in amazement.

The woman shrugged. "This not hard. Helga do same thing to visit the boys back in Sweden. Carry axe in teeth."

Everett paused to think this over, then decided he’d rather not. "And after you were aboard?"

"Helga hide, watch, and steal food from kitchen. Not sure what to do. Ship has different markings now, different crew, but maybe this just trick. Then see Russians sneak aboard, up to no good. Decide to fight them! Looks like a good time!"

"You joined in the fight because you thought you might enjoy it?"

"Ja! Girls just want to have fun!"

It occurred to Everett that the woman might have a novel definition of the term ‘fun’.

"What was your cargo?" asked MacKiernan. "Why did the Germans want to steal it?"

"Worthless stuff. Cheap black rocks from quarry in the south. Helga remember the name: Enterprise Creek. Got them from freight forwarder whose client defaulted on contract. You looking for Duck?"

"Yes," said Everett, concerned about what he knew would come next.

"Then Helga come along, help capture ship, find what happened to her men. If they OK, send pirates to prison. If they not OK, bind pirates’ limbs, carve blood eagle in their backs, and throw them to the sharks."

"This might contravene Naval Regulations," observed Jenkins.

"Then just throw them to the sharks without the fun stuff."

"We can discuss these details later," said Everett. "In the interim, we would need to enlist you in some capacity to keep this all aboveboard."

"Could she serve as an engineer?"

"Helga not work with engines. Bad for complexion."

"Could she help with the wireless or navigation?"

Everett tried to imagine the woman standing in the control car, axe in hand, blond braids streaming behind her. "It might take too long to train her on our equipment," he replied cautiously. "Perhaps she could help Abercrombie in the rigging department."

"Ja, rigger! Helga knows how to tie things up. Rigging, farm animals, naughty men..."

Jenkins hurried to interrupt before she could elaborate. "I believe that Abercrombie will welcome the assistance..."

"Hold it there laddie..."

"...and we’re still short-handed."

"Abercrombie?" asked Everett pointedly. "We might need her information if we’re ever to get to the bottom of these puzzles."

"All right," sighed the Scotsman.

Everett nodded and turned to the woman. "You are now enlisted in the Royal Naval Airship Service as a civilian specialist under RNR 247-632 subject to naval regulations and conditions subject the provisions of RNR 247-401 Clauses C and D with final pay grade and bonuses to be determined according to Clause G welcome aboard."

Next week: Dubious Deeds in Darwin...

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