The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 126: Papers?

The safe standing in apool of water

Everett gazed through the drift meter, then glanced at the compass. "What’s our airspeed?" he asked the helmsman.

"Ten knots, sir," answered Davies.

"Give me half astern on Engine Two."

"Half astern on Two," acknowledged the marine. The telegraph rang and the Flying Cloud began to slow.

They were low above the waves, struggling with a westerly breeze as they maneuvered into position over the spot where the safe had gone into the surf. Divers had already secured and buoyed a line to their intended cargo. Now it was up to the airmen to retrieve it. Everett had ordered the center and side engines run in opposite directions to improve handling, but even with tricks like these, managing a vessel ten times the length of a cricket pitch in shifting winds and rain was something of a challenge.

"Altitude and vertical speed?" he asked Wallace.

"520 feet, 20 feet per minute down," replied the elevatorman.

"Very good. Mister MacKiernan, tell Abercrombie to send down the Transporter."

The Exec spoke into the intercom and the hoist began its descent. On the platform, two figures -- Loris and Iverson -- could be seen huddling against the downpour. A squall swept past, partly obscuring the view.

"80 feet per minute down," warned Wallace. "Hull’s picking up moisture, getting heavier."

"Miss Sarah, release 200 pounds on Tank Three."

"200 pounds on Three," said the island girl. A shower of water arced down from the ballast tank. Caught by some fluke of wind, it struck the Transporter platform dead center. MacKiernan shook his head in sympathy.

"That looked rather bracing."

"These things build character," remarked Everett. "Altitude and vertical speed?"

"400 feet, climbing at 40."

"Bring the nose down one degree."

For the next several minutes, Everett issued a stream of commands to keep the airship on station. The key, he’d learned from long experience, was to make corrections well before they were needed and stop just before they took effect. This took considerable concentration.

"Signal from Mister Iverson," said MacKiernan. "They’re approaching the surface and... oh my..."

Everett risked a glance out the window. "That’s why I insist that my gentlemen know how to swim," he observed. "Have they picked up the buoy?"

"It looks like Loris has it now. Iverson’s signaling for a retrieve."

"Very good. As soon as they’re back aboard, plot a course for Darwin. And tell Abercrombie to offer them a tot of whiskey. I believe they’ve earned it."

A day had passed since the impromptu tank battle. Their adversaries seemed to have fled. Everett and his party had found the other machine standing atop its broken track with hatches open and engine running. A faint line of footprints led across the meadow, down the bluff, and across the beach to the surf line. There was no sign of a boat -- if it had been any distance offshore, it would have been hidden by the squalls.

"At least we recovered the safe," said MacKiernan, as if reading his captain’s mind. "Shall I have Abercrombie swing it into the hold?"

"No, it will be easier and safer to take it back to Darwin and set it down at the Air Station."


They picked up their mooring, then lowered the safe to a sledge and had it dragged to a blacksmith’s shop -- the only structure on the air station large enough for their purposes. A short time later, they watched as Pierre examined the dull steel block.

"Eet is Russian," the Frenchman announced after he was finished, "made by the Tula workshops toward end of the century after they’d switched from keys to combination locks."

"Sir Murray informed us that someone stole a safe from a Russian freighter in Port Moresby, back in April," said MacKiernan. "Could this be same one?"

"The possibility is intriguing," said Everett. "Pierre, can you open it?"

The Frenchman gave him a disappointed glance, then set a stethoscope against the metal and began to twirl the tumblers. A moment later he nodded.

"C’est bien. Mister Iverson, eef you could hand me that instrument." He pointed at a pair of tongs that hung next to the forge.

"What do you need them for?" asked the lieutenant.

"Watch carefully and you may see."

Using the tongs, the Frenchman lifted the handle and teased open the door. As it swung back, there was a loud pop and a hole appeared in the far wall of the smithy.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Iverson. "There was a gun built into the mechanism!"

Pierre nodded. "Oui. The workmen at Tula were noted for their dark sense of humor. Unfortunately they were not always noted for their craftsmanship." He indicated the mass of sodden papers that filled the interior.

"Ruined," said Iverson sadly, "after all the trouble we went through to find them. This is just like a radio drama."

"Perhaps," observed Jenkins, "and perhaps not. The Signal Corps has established procedures for situations such as these. Captain, if I might request Iwamoto’s assistance?"


Two days later, Everett and his officers and guests gathered in the mess hall to hear the signalman’s report. Miss Perkins sat at the far end of the table, glaring at Emily and Clarice, who seemed to regard the entire affair as an adventure. Watching her, Everett was reminded of a particularly strict schoolteacher he'd known as a child. He kept his smile to himself.

"The restoration went better than I hoped," said Jenkins. "I soaked the papers in fresh water to remove mud and salt while our good engineer fashioned a vacuum chamber to dry them. A few sheets stuck together and are irretrievably lost, but we were able to recover most of the documents. With Miss Wilcox’s help, I’ve begun to review them.

"The documents fall into two categories: ones written in Russian, which may have been the safe's original contents, and ones composed by Mister Fuller and his companions. Of most immediate interest are several that refer to the tanks. It appears Mister Fuller and Police Chief Channel arranged their purchase from the War Department. It also appears that the price they quoted to the good people of Darwin was somewhat higher than the amount they actually paid for the machines."

"Interesting," said Everett. "We will keep this information to ourselves for now. What else did they leave?"

"There is an extensive record of contacts between our three gentlemen and agents of the Russian government. These were written in a cipher that Miss Wilcox found rather unimaginative." He nodded at the brunette, who smiled.

"I thought these so-called ‘Fascists’ were opposed to the Communists," said MacKiernan.

"Conspiracy can produce strange alliances," said Miss Perkins primly. "And there’s no reason to believe either party was sincere. What did these records say?"

"Our gentlemen and the Communists seemed to share an interest in the doings of the White Russian exile community. It’s difficult to say what they discovered, since the relevant documents are quite incomplete, but I found several references to something called a DeBroglie Refiner, which appears to have been the invention of someone named ‘K’. I imagine this was our mysterious friend Karlov. We also have this."

The signalman produced a battered ledger, stained with water and mud. It looked quite ordinary, but Everett felt a nameless twinge of apprehension. "It appears to be a logbook," he observed.

"Indeed it is, of vessel named..." Jenkins winced, "...the Ostrovnaya Devushka. For the most part, it is an uninteresting account of ports visited, cargoes loaded, coal consumption, and the like, but if you examine this entry toward the end, you will see that someone -- presumably one of our English gentlemen -- scribbled 'Inform the Leader!’ in the margin next to it."

"The ‘Leader’?" said Iverson. "But wasn’t Mister Fuller the man in charge?"

Everett shook his head. "There is a subtle mind behind all this, and Mister Fuller, for all of his possible merits as a military visionary, was not particularly subtle. What does the entry say?"

The signalman hesitated, as if steeling himself to deliver bad news. "It translates to something like ‘Take the second Device aboard for delivery to cell on Tonga'."

There was a moment of stunned silence.

"The second Device?" exclaimed someone. "But that must mean there was more than... oh dear..."

Next week: Things to Contemplate...

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