The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 107: Next Move

The Transporter Room

Everett stood in his usual spot in the control car, studying the log. Events had taken an unexpected turn. The reappearance of Lieutenant Blacker had shocked him deeply, for it suggested that others might have survived aboard the stern section of the R-212. What had become of them? If Blacker was indeed working for some enemy of the realm, his men might well be prisoners. Had Blacker turned coat to secure his freedom or had he been a traitor all along? And what was Michaelson up to? The senior captain's actions seemed designed to create a smokescreen behind which his real intentions remained hidden. But it wouldn't do to express these concerns in an official document. Putting them aside, he made an entry.

October 25 1926. Lat 24 20' S, Long 151 52' E. The flight continues uneventful. The ship is in excellent shape after her overhaul except for a few minor problems in the accommodations section. Miss Perkins has been a welcome addition to her crew. Her cheerful nature and helpful attitude are appreciated by all.

He heard the tap of footsteps behind him and suppressed a sigh.

"Permission to speak, sir," came a sharp female voice.

"Granted," he replied. "And Miss Perkins, I believe we can dispense with these formal requests in the future in the interests of efficiency."

"Thank you," said the secretary in tone that somehow failed to be the least bit convincing. "You have anticipated the question I'm here to ask. We've spent the past 18 hours flying back and forth between here and Bundaberg at half power on one engine. Is this the best use of Royal Navy resources?"

Long years of experience had taught Everett how to maintain an even temper in trying circumstances. He drew on this experience now. "We want to give Iverson and Jenkins time to finish their investigations," he said calmly. "We also wish to conserve fuel and ballast. But we don't want to call attention to ourselves by lingering in one place. This seemed the best way to reconcile these competing requirements."

"Perhaps," said Miss Perkins, "but how will we know when your men are ready to be retrieved?"

"I instructed them to have the amateur radio operator in town broadcast an innocuous-seeming message about the weather. It arrived a few minutes ago."

The woman's eyes seemed to brighten. It occurred to Everett that this was the first trace of enthusiasm she'd shown since coming aboard. "Did they learn anything useful?" she asked.

"I was about to make my way to the Transporter Room to find out. Would you care to accompany me?"

"Energizing," said Iwamoto. He closed a toggle, advanced a lever, and the Transporter lurched into operation. For several minutes, no one spoke as gears whined, the winch spun, and the cable follower moved back and forth. Everett took advantage of this interlude to study the equipment. It was a standard commercial installation, produced by the Mayflower Aeronautical Corporation in Devon, that could have been purchased anywhere. It offered no clues as to who might have built the ship herself. He wondered it they'd ever learn the answer. The vessel was a work of some art. It seemed incredible that such a capable yard could remain hidden.

His reflections were interrupted by a thump as the hoist platform slammed against its bumpers. Iwamoto shot the bolts that secured it in place, locked the winch drum, and shut down the motor. As he finished, Abercrombie and Jenkins stepped lightly to the deck. Iverson followed, looking only slightly green around the gills. The lieutenant is coming along nicely, thought Everett. In a few more years, he should get used to this sort of thing.

"Did the investigation go well?" he asked.

"Tolerably," said Iverson. "The parachutist was gone by the time we arrived, but there's good reason to believe it was Lieutenant Blacker, and the circumstances of his departure were food for thought."

Everett picked up the intercom and thumbed the key for the bridge "Mister MacKiernan, we will wish to bide our time while we review Lieutenant Iverson's discoveries. Maintain an altitude of 3000' and take us north at half power on Engine Three. Then give the watch to Davies and meet us in the mess hall."

The mess hall was the same as always: an airy space at the aft end of the crew section with a row of windows along one side that cast a cheery light on a cluster of lightweight aluminum tables and chairs. It might not have been the most dignified venue, but it was the only compartment aboard ship large enough to hold a meeting.

"Please tell us what you found," Everett said to Iverson, doing his best to put the lieutenant at ease, for Miss Perkins' presence might have made stouter men quail. The lieutenant swallowed, took a deep breath, and began his report.

"The parachutist was observed by a reliable witness," he said. "This witness reported hearing a sound of engines at the time of the descent. This was almost certainly the R-87 flying overhead, hidden by the clouds."

"Overhead?" said MacKiernan, raising an eyebrow.

"That's what our witness said, and he was a retired Naval officer, so I believe we can trust his observations."

Everett, MacKiernan, and Miss Perkins exchanged glances. "Interesting," said Everett. "Continue."

"The parachutist landed in a field toward the end of town. No one actually witnessed the landing, but there were tracks to suggest he was met by a confederate who accompanied him to the beach where another confederate was waiting with a boat."

"We're sure these alleged confederates weren't people from the village?" asked Miss Perkins suspiciously. Iverson glanced at her with signs of trepidation.

"Yes," he replied, with only a hint of a squeak in his voice. "The small size of the village would make it difficult for anyone to maintain the necessary anonymity."

Well done, thought Everett. It takes strength of character to compose a well-turned phrase in a threatening situation.

"It sounds like they knew exactly where he would land," mused MacKiernan.

"I'm afraid so," sighed Everett, turning to Miss Perkins. "Do you agree?" The secretary gave a curt nod.

"I don't understand the cause of your concern," said Jenkins. "I also don't understand how they could have managed it. According to Captain Harris, the weather was so thick that he didn't have any idea of our position."

"Exactly," said Everett. "Miss Perkins, I would imagine you have the relevant documents to hand. Captain Michaelson must have anticipated this situation."

The woman glanced at him in surprise, then reached into her attaché case and passed Everett a folder. He flipped it open and studied it with MacKiernan.

"I'd have to agree," said the Irishman after a moment.

"Agree with what, sir?" asked Jenkins.

"A skilled navigator might have been able to guide the vessel while maintaining the deception that he was lost," said Everett. "The question is whether Harris had the necessary skill. We have here the Commander's evaluation reports. As you can see, his marks as a navigator were mediocre... and suspiciously uniform, as if he was trying to conceal a greater proficiency without ever scoring poorly."

"You're suggesting that Harris is in league with the plotters?" asked Iverson, eyes wide.

"That's what our evidence would seem to show. I imagine Captain Michaelson will want to hear of this as soon as possible. Mister MacKiernan, please plot a course for Cairns."

"That will not be necessary," said Miss Perkins curtly, withdrawing an envelope from her attaché case. "As you've noted, Captain Michaelson has anticipated this eventuality. In here you will find instructions for a coded message to be sent to Cairns. As soon as this has been acknowledged, you will proceed to the New Hebrides as described in these orders. En route, you will pay a visit to the island where you grounded the bow section of the R-212."

Without another word, she stood and left the room, leaving the four men sitting speechless behind her.

Next week: Memories of a Rather Bad Day...

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