Episode 57: People Just Leave These Things Lying Around
The Transporter Room smelled of oil, grease, and electricity. The
Transporter itself -- a massive winch and drum of cable -- took up most of
the space. The rest was occupied by the hoist platform and operator's
station. Iwamoto stood in his usual place by the controls.
"What's the status of the equipment?" Iverson asked the engineer.
"Equipment ready," said Iwamoto.
Darn, thought Iverson. He was not looking forward to using it.
But waiting wasn't going to make the experience any more pleasant. "All
right, men," he said. "Let's get this over with."
Davies vaulted onto the platform. Landing parties were old hat to the
veteran marine. Fleming followed more cautiously. The young Australian
might pursue adventurous hobbies -- Iverson still marveled at his
willingness to leap into space on his Lilienthal glider -- but he didn't
seem to be looking forward to the Transporter ride. Iverson didn't blame
the man. Taking a deep breath, he gave the necessary command.
"All right, Mister Iwamoto. Energize."
The engineer flipped a toggle, advanced a lever. A motor whined to life
and the hoist platform lurched downward, sending the three men grabbing
for the rail. Then they were dropping into space as the airship dwindled
"Does this ever get easier?" asked Fleming.
No, thought Iverson, but he was an officer, with an image to
maintain. "It does, in time," he said, in a reply that might have been more
convincing if it hadn't come out as a squeak. The cable above them seemed
entirely too fragile to support their weight, while the space below them was
all too real.
"At least we aren't swinging," said Davies. "I remember a deployment just
after the War when we swung through the window of a chateau near Amiens."
"What happened?" asked Fleming, fascinated.
The marine's battered face cracked in a smile. "They were just serving a
banquet for the Comte and his guests. I smashed into a large bowl of soup.
Some kind of fish, I believe, though it's hard to be sure with those
French. That was pretty much the end of that uniform. The Captain ended
up sitting in the lap of the Contessa's daughter. She'd just turned
eighteen, and seemed quite pleased by the experience. Officers... they
have all the luck."
"You've served with him a long time," said Iverson, after they'd stopped
"Aye. We met on the HMS Irresistible during the Dardanelles
"The Dardanelles?" Fleming began, but at that moment the platform struck
the ground with a crash.
"Right!" ordered Iverson, when they recovered their balance. "Everyone out
before this thing starts to drag!"
As soon as they were clear of the hoist, Iverson led them toward the
wreckage they'd seen from the airship. The terrain was, if anything, even
drier and emptier than it had seemed from above. On a distant branch, a
hawk waited patiently for the first thermals to form. Closer at hand, a
lizard regarded them from a rock with that expression of skepticism
peculiar to lizards. Other than that, there was no sign of life.
Their destination lay some distance away, at the end of a trail of
shattered crates. Fleming paused to examine one of these. It was
flattened by the impact, and covered with dust, but they could still make
out the graceful image of a long-necked waterbird on the side.
"Swan Lager. Queensland's finest," said Fleming ruefully.
"They must have been pretty desperate if they were throwing beer overboard,"
"And it's all smashed."
"Don't leap to conclusions," said the marine. He crouched and poked through
the fragments until he extracted several intact stubbies. "Permission to
take these back to the ship, sir," he asked Iverson, "as evidence?"
The lieutenant sighed. Officers in the Royal Naval Airship Service learned
to tolerate a certain amount of irregular behavior. "Permission granted."
The wreckage was torn, twisted, and smashed as if by some terrible impact.
One end was a flattened mass of duralumin. The other had split open to
reveal an engine block, driven into the ground by the force of the crash.
A shattered propeller lay nearby.
"Could this have been the engine car from an airship?" asked Fleming.
"It looks more like one of the old-style external control cars," said
Davies. "I'd say it came from the R-67."
"How d'you reckon?" asked the Aussie, impressed by the marine's powers of
"The number is painted there on the side."
"Wasn't this the packet the Captain was on?" asked Iverson.
"I believe so," said Davies, "but we know he reached Darwin safely because
he sent us that wire."
"Why didn't he mention this?" asked Iverson, gesturing at the wreckage.
Davies shrugged. "Word charges are expensive. And I imagine he didn't
think it worthy of mention. After all, it's only a control car."
"Whatever is it doing here? It's hardly the sort of thing anyone could
The marine examined one of the struts. "I'd guess they jettisoned it
deliberately. This appears to have been cut. They may have lost a large
amount of hydrogen and needed to reduce weight. Perhaps some rigging cables
snapped and tore open several of the gas cells. That happened on the old
R-38, back in the Gale of '21."
"This must be how they did it," said Fleming, holding up the battered
remains of a power saw. "They're all over the place."
"That's the Captain's work all right," said Davies. "He always was a
resourceful bloke. Should we take some of these saws back with us?"
"I don't see any reason to," said Iverson. "The motors, shafts, and
bearings will all have been smashed by the fall. The only thing that didn't
break would be the blades, and I can't imagine what we could possibly need
The ride back up to the ship was uneventful. Iwamoto braked the hoist to a
stop, engaged the bolts to lock the platform in place, and shut down the
power. Iverson waited until everything was secure, then dismissed his men
and made his way to the bridge.
"Shore party is back aboard, sir," he informed MacKiernan.
The Exec seemed preoccupied. "You can deliver your report later," he
announced. "Now please take the helm and ring for full speed. As soon as
we have way on, steer course 345 for Darwin."
"What's wrong, sir?" asked Iverson, suddenly concerned.
"We've received a message from town. The Captain's been kidnapped."
Next week: The Savage Darwinian Struggle For Survival...