The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 136: ...And An Unexpected Reunion

Helga channels Frank Frazetta

"Odin?" said one of the guards in puzzlement. "Someone on that lifeboat just shouted the name of an old Norse deity. Whatever was that about?"

"Perhaps they're pagan missionaries," suggested one of his companions. "They might be coming to deliver a sermon."

"On a South Pacific island? This seems unlikely. It must be some sort of distress signal."

"A rather peculiar distress signal if you ask me! A simple call for help would have been more succinct."

The guards watched, scratching their heads, as the boat drew closer. Its prow grated against the sand and a tall blonde woman leapt ashore clutching a battle axe in one shapely fist. She was followed by a horde of burly Scandinavians armed with oar handles, belaying pins, crowbars, sledge hammers, and other tough durable objects. They spotted the guards, bellowed a war cry, and charged.

"You were right," Abercrombie yelled to MacKiernan.

"I have mixed feelings about this," the Irishman yelled back.

"Do you know these people?" asked Miss Perkins.

"We've met," cried MacKiernan, pulling the secretary down as a small boat anchor whizzed overhead.

The ensuing scuffle was somewhat one-sided. The English seamen were entirely unprepared for the assault, and went down like hapless peasants in the face of a band of Viking marauders. The four Russian cavalrymen fared little better. One dropped his rifle and fled for the hills. The others were dragged from their saddles before they had a chance to fire.

MacKiernan and his companions crouched out of the way as the battle swept past. When it was over, they rose to face the leader of their rescuers, who was trotting toward them on one of the Cossack's horses. It was a spirited cavalry stallion, which should have been quite difficult to manage, but it knew better than to argue with a superior will.

When she saw them, the woman gave a cry of delight.

"It's the MacKiernan and the Abercrombie! How you get here? And who your little friend?"

MacKiernan offered her a polite nod. "It's a pleasure to see you again, Miss Helga. This is Miss Perkins. Miss Perkins, may I introduce Miss Helga, a shipowner from Sweden."

"Charmed, I'm sure," said the secretary, who quite obviously wasn't.

"What brings ye to this wee island?" asked Abercrombie.

The Swedish woman laughed, handed the reins to one of her men, and vaulted down from the saddle. MacKiernan noticed that her axe looked new. How many of those things does she wear out in a year? he wondered.

"Is long story," she said cheerfully. "We go to Nuku'alofa to register new ship. While we there, meet Russians, who offer us the job. Come here when done, see them going out to ship, like they mean to sneak off without paying. We put a stop to this! Now they know better than to mess with Helga!"

She gestured offshore, where a familiar-looking steamship had pulled alongside the Englishmen's freighter. MacKiernan recognized the erstwhile Duck, which now bore the name Viking Girl II. Somehow he wasn't surprised.

"We're grateful for your assistance," he said. "I imagine you intend to have a look at that vessel. If you don't mind, we'd like to join you."

"Ya sure! You hop on the boat and we row you along!"

The lifeboat was an ungainly tub -- a far cry from the sleek Viking longships of old -- but Helga's men made short work of the passage, pulling through the water with blithe disregard for the laws of hydrodynamics. They drew up on the starboard side of the prize, where the coxswain fended them off with a boathook while Helga, MacKiernan, and Abercrombie scrambled up a boarding ladder. Miss Perkins followed moments later in a bosun's chair. She smoothed down her skirt and gazed around the deck.

"So this is the Skerry Lady," she remarked. "What a dreadful name."

"It's a crime against humanity," agreed Abercrombie. "But it does looks like they took good care of her."

The vessel was a small island freighter, perhaps 1500 tons, with holds forward and amidships and machinery aft. From her lines, MacKiernan guessed she was the product of some Scottish yard, while her auxiliary masts, open wheelhouse, and antiquated stack suggested that she was quite old. She was surprisingly well-maintained -- more like a gentleman's yacht than an honest working vessel. Her running rigging was neatly coiled, brasswork gleamed from the deckhouse, and someone had even taken time to polish the anchor winch: a pointless exercise if there ever was one. But something was missing.

"Where are Fuller, Blacker, and the Russians?" asked Miss Perkins.

"My men say no sign of them," said Helga, who'd been talking with her crew. "Ship is empty when they come aboard."

"Those British Union laddies have an uncanny ability to vanish," said Abercrombie, "almost like that man Karlov. De'ye ken they're doing it the same way?"

"I doubt it," mused MacKiernan. "Karlov's talent was quite mysterious. He seemed able to disappear from anywhere. These fellows have only done so when they were near the ocean. I imagine they had a fast launch tied up on the far side of the vessel and slipped away before Helga's crew could spot them. Let's see if they left anything behind."

They crossed to the port rail and looked down. Fuller's new-fangled landing craft lay next to the freighter, bumping against a row of fenders as the two vessels rolled in the swell. The armored car was still aboard, but the Skerry Lady's derrick hung above it, and the safe was missing from its place on the roof.

"However they escaped, it looks like they got away with the goods," Miss Perkins observed. "Perhaps our captives can tell us where they've gone."

The captives were not particularly informative. The English seamen couldn't tell them anything useful -- mere hirelings, they knew nothing about their employers' plans. The Russian cavalrymen refused to speak at all.

"They not talk," said Helga. "Helga know the type. They too loyal to this Anna woman."

"Then we're stumped," said Abercrombie. "Fuller and his men made off with their safe, which we ken holds all their charts. We'll never find them now."

MacKiernan frowned. The Scotsman was almost certainly right. The Pacific was an enormous place, with thousands of islands scattered across thousands of miles of ocean. Unless they found some clue, they had no way of guessing where to look for their quarry.

A thought occurred to him. He smiled. Could it really be so easy? "Miss Helga," he asked, "you told us you that did a job for these Russians. What, precisely, was the nature of this enterprise?"

The Swedish woman shrugged. "It nothing. Carry mysterious cargo to hidden base on secret island."

MacKiernan and Abercrombie exchanged glances. MacKiernan raised an eyebrow. "What do you think?"

"They'll be well on the way to their airship by now," warned Abercrombie. "There's no way we can catch up with them."

"They'll still have make the rendezvous, and they may need fuel and hydrogen. We might be able to beat them to their destination if we start immediately. Miss Helga, would you be willing to undertake a charter for the Royal Naval Airship Service under the provisions for Hazardous Service During Peacetime?"

"Ya sure!" said Helga, who knew how to read between the lines. "That sound like fun!"

"How will we inform Captain Everett of our intentions?" asked Miss Perkins.

"We'll leave a message for Jenkins," said MacKiernan. "I doubt anyone else will come here while we're gone."

Next week: Someone's Been Busy...

Comments about Episode 136? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit