Episode 77: A Flight to the East
The Flying Cloud left Darwin that evening, bound for the Torres
Straight. These waters might have been dangerous for surface ships to
navigate at night, but they posed no problem for an airship. Dawn found
them passing north of the Cape York Peninsula. Centuries ago, it had taken
explorers like Van Diemen, Tasman, and Cook weeks to travel this distance.
Now people could cover it in a matter of hours.
What wonders will technology produce next? wondered Everett. He
imagined submersible dreadnoughts, mechanical centurions, radium rays, and
flying cars -- the stuff of radio dramas. But there were times when it
seemed they were caught up in a radio drama themselves. Complete with
Over at the ballast station, Clarice and Emily were reviewing
their figures. The two young women had taken to the calculations readily
enough, but their presence added an element of... unpredictability.. to the
atmosphere in the control car. The blond seemed to alternate between
enthusiasm and suspicion according to some logic only she understood. The
brunette might have been more even-tempered, but she seemed dissatisfied with
the working conditions, and kept one hand on her skirt whenever she descended
a companionway, as if she expected someone to take advantage of the
"Where now, sir?" asked MacKiernan, glancing at Clarice as if he expected
her to explode.
"We’ll stop at Port Moresby to resupply."
"You’re not going to try to leave us behind!" snapped the blond.
"I wouldn’t dream of it," said Everett, stretching the truth slightly.
Port Moresby, capital of the Commonwealth's possessions in Papua, was a
substantial town on the southern coast of New Guinea -- named by Captain
John Moresby of the HMS Basilisk after his father, Admiral Sir
Fairfax Moresby, one fine morning in 1873. Like Cairns, it was set amidst a
landscape so green it almost hurt the eye, beneath a clear bright tropical
sky. To the north, the Owen Stanley Range rose beneath a wall of distant
clouds. Before it, the ocean was a heart-stopping shade of blue.
The Royal Navy maintained a station here, so Everett was able to call on
Fleet stores to replenish their supplies of fuel and hydrogen -- no airship
captain liked to run low on these things, and they’d be facing a headwind
for the next stage of their flight. Regassing would take time, so he took
advantage of this opportunity to check the port’s records. He invited Sarah
to accompany him. The outing might do her good, and the island girl would
be a welcome change from Clarice and Emily.
The girl was silent as they made their way through town, so Everett studied
the people they passed. Many seemed to be Japanese tourists. He noted
several artists and photographers, posing their subjects in front of scenic
vistas such as the harbor fortifications or the Navy docks. Others seemed
to be prospectors bound on expeditions to the north. Everett wondered at
this, and resolved to ask Iwamoto more about his countrymen when he had the
The Marine Board had no record of the Inselmädchen. In particular,
it didn’t appear that the vessel had picked up a pilot to negotiate the
Torres Straight. This meant little, for the nationalists might have had
someone on board who was familiar with the passage. They seemed too
well-prepared to overlook such an important detail. There was also no
mention of the ship in the port records or the shipping news. Perhaps no
one had noticed it arrive, or perhaps some money had changed hands in the
Harbormaster's office -- either way, it appeared that the nationalists had
covered their tracks well.
Satisfied they'd done what they could, Everett called at the office of the
Australian Postmaster General’s Department to check for dispatches. They
arrived to find two customers arguing with the clerk. One had a distinct
American accent, the other was an older gentleman with dark hair, strong
features, and a substantial mustache.
"...that’s ‘G’ ‘H’ ‘A’ ‘M’," the older man was saying. ""M" as in
"I’ll check, sir," said the clerk. Excusing himself, he made his way to the
back of the room to initiate some elaborate postal procedure.
"I say, Gerald," observed older man, "mail service in these odd corners of
the Empire can be a hit or miss affair."
"It’s better than San Francisco, Somerset," his companion remarked wryly.
"That seems mostly to be a miss affair."
Everett watched the clerk's progress, realized they might be there for
some time, and decided that introductions were in order. "Where might you
gentlemen be from?" he asked.
The older man waved his hand airily. "We’ve been vacationing on Thursday
Island, but the company was growing dull, so we nipped over here to see how
the New Guineans were getting along."
"Where’s Thursday Island?" asked Sarah.
The man smiled. "I’m not entirely sure, but I imagine it lies between
Wednesday and Friday Islands."
Sarah looked as if she was about to reply. Then, unexpectedly, she began to
laugh -- the first laughter Everett had heard from her since the
accident. The captain smiled to himself. We should never underestimate
the healing powers, he thought, of human badinage.
The mood aboard ship seemed lighter as they cleared Port Moresby. That
evening, Sarah paid a visit to the control car and offered polite
greetings to Clarice and Emily.
The two former clerks didn’t seem quite sure what to make of the island
girl, but they replied in kind. Everett was encouraged by the exchange,
though he wondered how they might have reacted if Sarah had brought her
They spent the next day plodding east above the Coral Sea, keeping engine
revolutions higher than normal to overcome the trade wind, which
was almost directly on their nose. This stretch of ocean was heavily
traveled, and they passed several freighters, island schooners, and small
craft, bound upon un-guessed-at errands. Everett was examining one
through binoculars -- a small steamship named the Innsmouth
Shadow -- when Abercrombie spoke from the helm.
"What’s New Caledonia like?" asked the rigger. "We’ve been there twice
now, but I still dinnae ken a thing about the place."
"Jenkins could tell you more," said Everett, "but there are two main island
groups: the Loyalty Islands to the east and Grande Terre with its satellite
islands to the west. The former are a set of large coral islands of no
particular value. The latter is fairly mountainous and has a number of
mineral deposits that I don’t believe anyone has managed to exploit
French took possession of the place under Napoleon III, and I understand
they’ve been trying to get rid of it ever since."
"Where does Sarah’s island fit in?"
"It’s the odd one out," said Everett. "Perhaps that’s why the French
continued to use it as penal colony after they claimed to have abolished the
practice elsewhere. I don’t believe it has ever been studied -- I wonder if
this anthropologist Countess Zelle mentioned ever got that far."
At that moment, Davies’s voice crackled from the intercom. "Upper Lookout to
Bridge. Land ahead, bearing 120."
Ahead of them, a dark patch had appeared on the horizon. "And that would be
Grand Terre," observed Everett, "right on schedule. I wonder what we'll
Next week: Meanwhile, Back at the Secret German Base...
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