Episode 29: What Does It All Mean?
Captain Roland P. Everett, commander of the Flying Cloud,
His Majesty’s Airship R-505, stood at the head of the mess hall
studying his men. And women. They may not have been the strangest
crew he’d ever known, but they were certainly an odd lot, ranging
from gentlemen of breeding to... well... he wasn’t sure he wanted
to know all the details of Miss Helga’s background. They’d pulled
together well so far, but how well would they behave if things got
tough? This was not just a hypothetical question, for things had
already become very strange.
"Gentlemen," he said, "and ladies, we appear to be embroiled in
several mysteries. We have no idea if they are connected, but so
far they have involved piracy, theft, and violence on a significant
scale, which suggests the stakes are high. I believe it’s time for
us to review what we know so that we can devise a plan of action.
MacKiernan, could you summarize the situation?"
The Exec flipped open their old log -- the battered tome they’d
rescued from the R-212 before she was lost -- and began to speak.
"Four weeks ago, our previous vessel was attacked and destroyed by
an unidentified cruiser. We still have no idea who they were or
why they attacked. The stern section of our ship went down in the
Pacific along with most of the crew, but some of us escaped aboard
the bow, which we were able to pilot to a landing on an island in
the New Caledonian chain.
"The proved to be the site of a French penal colony. As we
approached the main settlement, we spotted an airship with German
markings moored at an improvised mast near the harbor. This vessel
was named the Wolkenflieger -- which translates to
something dreadful, like ‘Cloud Flier’ -- and had a German
identification number, L-505. A steamship named the Duck
was tied to a wharf nearby.
"This seemed suspicious, for Germany and France are still formally
at war. Our suspicious were reinforced when we met Pierre, who’d
escaped from the colony, and Miss Sarah, the daughter of a local
chief. They informed us that the French Governor was a shady
character, with a reputation for questionable behavior.
"We contrived to capture the airship while most of her crew
were ashore. Aboard, we found a cargo of smuggled weapons, along
with some black rocks like the one on the table to my right.
We also found Mister Iwamoto working in
one of the engine cars. But we didn’t find any clues as to the
origin of the vessel, and Mister Iwamoto wasn’t privy to any
information about his employers or their business."
"I come with engines," said the engineer.
"For which we’ve been grateful," said MacKiernan. He glanced at
the chart on the wall behind him, then shook his head. "At
this point," he sighed, "things became confused.
"We flew our prize to the Royal Air Station at Cairns. When we
arrived, the commander, Captain Michaelson, attempted to prosecute
us for piracy. During the proceedings, Admiral Wentworth discovered
that neither the Germans nor anyone else had any record of this ship.
Since she’d been involved in an illegal smuggling operation, and
didn’t seem to have any legitimate owners, the Admiral approved our
Captain’s actions and gave us command of the vessel, which we gave
a more palatable name.
"But Captain Michaelson wasn't through with us. After the Admiral
was gone, he ordered us to Darwin to patrol this empty stretch of
coast -- an act of spite if there ever was one. On our way here,
we spotted a freighter named the Viking Girl aground on a
beach. The Captain went down with a shore party to discover the
engines wrecked and cargo gone, except for a few black rocks like
the one on the table to my left. The crew seemed to have
been taken, but unbeknownst to us, the captain, Miss Helga, had
escaped the attackers and remained aboard. She took this
opportunity to swim ashore, climb our hoist, and stow away on
"We continued toward Darwin. That evening we encountered a storm,
which forced us to release ballast and hydrogen. When we arrived
here at the air station, we learned that their hydrogen plant had
chosen that very moment to develop leak that put it out of
commission. This seemed an unlikely coincidence. Evidence
pointed to some plot by the police chief, Channel, so we organized
a reception and a dance to distract the locals while Mister Jenkins
and Pierre investigated. The social events were a qualified
success..." he nodded to Loris, who sported a black eye, and
Lieutenant Iverson, who was nursing a hangover, "...but while we
were ashore, a band of Russians forced their way aboard and
attempted to hijack our vessel. They overpowered Wallace and
Mister Iwamoto, and were about to overwhelm Abercrombie..."
"...I would hae taken them..."
"...when Miss Helga appeared with her battleaxe. In the ensuing
struggle, she and Abercrombie managed to capture most of the
hijackers, but the leader escaped using a route that suggests
he’d seen plans for this vessel.
"The next day, Channel presumed upon his authority as police
chief to take our prisoners out of our hands. He claimed this
was standard procedure, but when Pierre searched Channel’s
mansion, he found papers written in Russian along with a set of
plans for this airship. This would seem to connect him with the
hijacking attempt. And when Jenkins investigated the telegraph
office, he learned that Channel has been in contact with some
unknown party or parties using a private code.
"This brings us to Miss Helga’s account. It appears her freighter
was attacked by this airship, operating in conjunction with the
Duck, perhaps a week before we encountered the two
vessels in New Caledonia. They overpowered her crew, smashed the
condenser inlet to scuttle the ship, and took off her cargo -- a
load of these mysterious black rocks."
"Have I summarized the situation correctly, sir?"
Everett sighed inwardly. He didn’t have the slightest clue what
was going on. But it would never do to admit this to the men.
"I believe so," he said brightly. "Now we have to figure out what
Next week: The Darwin Debate...