R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 29: What Does It All Mean?

Map of the South Pacific with the route of the flying Cloud

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 our ship.

"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 it means."

Next week: The Darwin Debate...

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