The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 66: Wild Sheilas of the Outback

L137 recovering a party of agents

The train chugged off into the distance, vanishing toward the south. As its sound faded, Everett, Jenkins, and Abercrombie glanced around what passed for the platform. A faint breeze stirred up the dust and rattled the tin roof of the depot. Below this, a neatly-lettered sign proclaimed 'Overland Telegraph and North Australia Rail: Enterprise Creek, North Territory, Australia'.

"There don't seem to be many people about," observed Jenkins. This was an understatement. The only sign of life was a bored-looking horse hitched to a buckboard in front of the building. The animal gave them a single disinterested glance, then went back to swatting flies with its tail.

Everett nodded. "I had hoped to engage a jitney. I believe we shall have to abandon this plan. Still, the walk will do us good."

"D'ye ken the way?" asked Abercrombie.

"We will ask this gentleman," said Everett as a burly character emerged from the shack and made his way toward the wagon. The man looked up as they approached.

"G'day mates!" he said. "'Ow ya goin'?"

"Good day, sir," replied Everett. "I am Captain Roland P. Everett of the Royal Naval Airship Service and these are my companions: Ensign Jenkins and Chief Rigger Abercrombie. I was wondering if you could direct us to the cattle station at Enterprise Creek."

The man scratched his head as if puzzling out a foreign language, then laughed. "I can do better 'n that. I'm Drew McIntyre, the owner. Hop aboard! We'll run out to the homestead and boil up a billy."

A bone-jarring ride along something that bore only an imperfect resemblance to a road brought them to a rambling stone building of substantial proportions. Soon they were sitting on a verandah while Drew and his wife Loretta plied them with tea. Satisfied that their hosts possessed the rudiments of civilization, Everett explained their mission.

"I remember that Russian chappie," said Drew when the captain was done. "Did some fossicking, then paid big bickies for a load of ore from our quarry. Understand he went missing on his way back to the big smoke."

"I believe he means `back to town'", whispered Jenkins, whose translation skills were being severely challenged.

"Indeed he did," said Everett. "This gentleman seems to have attracted the interest of several foreign governments. Have any strangers appeared to inquire about him?"

The rancher rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "We 'ave had our share 'o wogs. There was his wife, wanting to see where he'd been. She was a grouse sheila! Then her German friends showed up to give her a ride back to the depot. They must have picked her up while we were out 'cos we never saw them again."

The three airmen exchanged glances. It didn't take much imagination to guess how this encounter had played out.

"There was also that opera singer," continued the rancher.

"Opera singer?" asked Everett, recalling the Italian they'd met on the R-67. Could this be the same person? Whatever could have prompted such a man to visit the outback?

"Bob's your uncle! Said he was looking for some special kind 'o mineral he needed to make..." Drew paused and yelled over his shoulder, "...Abigail, what'd he call that whomajigger?"

A girl's voice replied from the house. "The `Strewmenty Dee Geeyoya'."

"'Strumenti Di Gioia'," guessed Jenkins. "That would translate to something like 'The Instruments of Joy'. Didn't Miss Sarah mention some articles by that name?"

"I believe so," said Everett. "Could we examine this quarry?"

Drew thought this over. "Gotta help a mate. He's got trouble with some jumbucks what think they're birds. But my daughter can run you out for a Captain Cook. Abby!"

The girl looked shy -- a fragile desert flower, barely past adolescence. A light summer dress clung to her slender waist, the swell of her breasts, the curve of her thighs. It appeared to have been intended for someone younger, but Everett was too much a gentleman to take advantage of the view this offered. This must be the woman Fleming mentioned, he thought, wondering why his crewman had spoken of her with such apprehension.

"You can call me... Amber," said the girl as she led a horse from the stables. "And this is Dobbie. She likes her apples! She had an inflammation of the rectum, but we cleared this up with a dose of Loathebalm's Ointment. Father asked me to smear it on because his arms are too big. I had to reach in all the way up to my elbow!" She hitched up the wagon, then held out a hand for them to shake. Everett accepted it gracefully, Jenkins professionally, and Abercrombie with a barely-suppressed shudder.

The girl's monologue continued throughout the long ride to the quarry. By the time they arrived, the airmen had learned more than they wanted to know about fungal rot, bovine intestinal disorders, and the history of the Rabbit-Proof Fence. "What shall we do, sir?" whispered Jenkins in desperation. As a signalman, he'd been taught to value economy of expression. It was clear that the girl had profoundly different values.

"We are representatives of the Crown," whispered Everett in reply. "We must respect local customs."

The quarry was a sizable depression in the side of a hill. It was larger than they'd expected, and Abigail launched into a long explanation of how the site had been here when the station was established. It was difficult to be sure, for the girl tended to ramble, but they gathered this was the work of some earlier landowner of whom no record remained.

Jenkins stooped to examine some of the rocks. "Uraninite," he announced. "We'd need Pierre to confirm this, but I believe it resembles the ore we recovered from Helga's ship."

"Captain," said Abercrombie. "Ye might want tae have a look at this." The Scotsman indicated several long scrapes in the gravel, aligned with the prevailing wind. "It looks like someone set down a Transporter here. I'd ken 'twas aboot a week ago."

"A Transporter?" said Jenkins. "Surely our hosts would have informed us if they'd seen an airship."

Everett was not so certain of this. The rancher had seemed somewhat vague, and his daughter had shown a remarkable ability to talk at length without offering a single piece of useful information. "Miss Abigail," he asked. "Have you by any chance noticed an airship in the vicinity sometime during the past week?"

The girl paused, as if unprepared for a question that did not involve animal husbandry. "No," she replied. "Except for that medium-sized German packet, approximately two million cubic feet enclosed volume with four engines mounted in three engine cars and an external control car in a pusher configuration, that flew overhead last Tuesday."

"Oh dear," said Jenkins, "that sounds like our friends aboard the L-137."

"I'm afraid you're right," said Everett. "We'd better send a message to the Flying Cloud. Miss Abigail, you have been of considerable assistance. Might I ask you for another favor?"

Next week: Mostly Welcome Reunions...

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