R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 33: Sheilas Gone Wild

Fleming attempting to escape from an over-talkative sheila

Fleming stirred, half-asleep, woken by conversation in the next room.

"Trouble at the mill," said an anxious male voice. "Crossbeam’s gone askew on the treadle."

"What does that mean?" asked a second voice -- this one female.

"I don’t know," protested the first voice. "I didn’t expect..."

"All right," sighed the second. "Let’s round up the boys. Abby can look after our guest."

"Do you think that’s wise? He’s a healthy young Navy airman, and you know sailors..."

The second voice laughed. "She can take care of herself. Remember what happened last time?" Floorboards creaked, a door slammed, and then the house was silent.

The young Aussie was awake by now. He found himself lying in a soft bed, covered with a quilt embroidered with scenes of rural life. Sunlight filtered in through curtains to his right, illuminating a small room filled with rustic hand-made furniture.

He recalled his flight to this place -- hours of struggle, working every scrap of lift as he fought his way south. At last, driven down by the approach of evening, he’d landed in a brush-strewn field next to a creek bed. By that time he was quite lost, his ordnance map useless in this land where everything looked the same. He’d been breaking down his glider, folding up the wings and trying to decide what he’d do next, when the ranchers found him. After getting over their amazement, they’d loaded his aircraft onto a buckboard and brought him here.

But where was 'here'? And more important, where were his clothes? All he could see was an insubstantial bathrobe -- too short for a full-grown man -- draped over a nearby chair. He shrugged it on and was about to look for his hosts when the door opened behind him.

"Hello," came a soft female voice. "My name is Abigail. But you can call me... Amber."

Fleming turned to see a striking young woman, blond as Helga, lively as Sarah, with a figure that put both to shame. She was wearing a filmy gown -- little more than a negligee -- and did not seem to be wearing anything underneath. He pulled his robe shut quickly to hide his body’s response.

"I’m... uh... Fleming," he managed to squeak. "Airman First Class, Royal Navy, His Majesty’s Airship R-505, the Flying Cloud."

"I’m so happy to meet you," she purred, stepping forward to take his hands. "The others have all gone off to fix some machinery, so I’m afraid we have the whole house to ourselves. You must be famished after flying all the way here. Can I get you something?"

"I... er...." But then she was tugging him into the next room. She sat him on a sofa, left the room for a moment, and returned bearing a pitcher of water, a plate of fresh home-made bread, and a bowl of grapes. After setting these on a table, she took a seat beside him.

"May I ask what happened to my uniform?" he asked, desperate to gain some control of the situation.

"Oh," she giggled, "it was filthy, so we took it out to wash. Now it’s hanging out to dry. And aren’t you more comfortable this way?" She leaned close to rest a hand on his chest.

"You’re quite sure the others are all gone?" Fleming asked in alarm.

"They’ll be gone for hours," she breathed, leaning closer. "We’re all alone. Some are at the cattle dip while the rest left to fix the pump. You never have trouble with your pumps do you?" Fleming could smell her perfume, feel the warmth of her breath. His heart began to pound.

"I... ah... what happens at the cattle dip?" he stuttered, at a loss as to what to say.

The girl brightened. "Oh, it’s quite exciting! We drive our stock through shallow baths filled with a solution of arsenic to protect them against skin diseases. Some of those are dreadful. There’s a fly that lays its eggs in epidermal lesions. If those hatch, we have to scrape out the maggots and smear the wounds with caustic soda. There’s also a worm that bores into the flesh to raise great oozing pustules. But you know what’s even worse?"

"Uh..."

"Fungus rot. It strikes sensitive areas, like the insides of the joints or the generative tissues, so they begin to decay. Bulls get it worse. If we can’t cauterize the infection with a hot iron, we have to use shears...

"Ulp..."

"...to cut away the rotting flesh..."


By the time his hosts returned, Fleming had retreated to one end of the sofa while the girl delivered a detailed lecture about intestinal parasites. He glanced up in relief as a hearty-looking middle-aged couple tromped through the door.

"Yer up!" cried the man as the woman headed off to the kitchen. "Is our Abby treating you right?"

"I..."

"Glad to hear it! Name’s Drew. And that was the missus, Loretta. I understand you flew here from that airship up in Darwin. What brings you to these parts?"

"I’m looking for a cattle station at a place called Enterprise Creek."

"Ha! Yer spot on! This is it! But why’s the Royal Navy interested in a place like this?"

"We’re trying to identify the origin of some cargo. A load of black rocks -- some mineral called," he searched his memory, "uraninite."

"What a funny name," laughed the girl. "He sounds just like that Russian prospector."

"Russian?" exclaimed Fleming, remembering the hijackers who’d attacked their ship.

"Yes," said the girl. "All done up in funny clothes with this silly fur hat. He was looking for something he called ‘uranenit’. He had this thing like a clock that he carried around, and he was always glancing over his shoulder like he was worried about something. He bought some rocks from our quarry, arranged to have them shipped, then took the train back to Darwin. That was about a month ago."

"And these rocks were black?" asked Fleming.

"Just like this one," said the man, tossing him a rock from a shelf. "You can have it, as a gift."

The airman caught the stone and turned it over in his hands. It told no tales. "You say the fellow had a clock?"

"Took it prospecting with him," said the man. "He never did tell us what it was for."

"Could he have been using it to navigate?" asked Fleming. "Did he have anything else, like a sextant?"

The girl giggled, then blushed.

"Hey!" scolded a cheerful voice from the kitchen. "Watch how you talk around our Abby!"

Next week: Pearl Smugglers?...

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