The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 144: Victory at Sea, In a Somewhat Indirect Fashion

Viking Girl II, torpedo boat, and periscope

MacKiernan eased the door shut, hoping no one had spotted him. The situation was awkward enough. If someone had seen him sneaking back to his cabin, it could become even more awkward. How did this happen? he asked himself. And what will happen now?

He was still wondering when he heard a knock outside. "So you're finally waukin'," came Abercrombie's voice. "Ye were soond asleep when I came by afair. We're about tae make landfall at Bougainville."

"Ah... yes... right..." he said brightly. "I'll be there as soon as I've... ah... dressed."

"Aye," said Abercrombie. "But dinnae take too long." MacKiernan furrowed his brow in suspicion. Had the Scotsman sounded unwontedly cheerful?

By the time he reached the bridge, their destination was visible to starboard -- a long low jungle-covered shore rising to a row of volcanic peaks. Wisps of smoke rose from one, trailing away to the northwest. To the north, an indentation in the coastline marked the entrance to Buka Strait.

Helga smiled cheerfully as he entered the wheelhouse. "God dag! Did you sleeping good? You not make the answer when Helga knock this morning."

"Um...," said MacKiernan. "So that's Bougainville. What are our plans?"

"We call Buka Town, see if the Predpriyatie visit. Captain Tserkov have the girlfriend there."

"Here too?" asked Abercrombie in amazement. "How many burds does the mon have?"

Helga laughed. "That Captain Tserkov very busy man. He have the girlfriends everywhere! He not like... most of you in Royal Navy."

MacKiernan glanced at the woman, trying to guess whether her pause had been intentional, but before he could reply, Miss Perkins appeared in the doorway. She had put up her hair in preparation for their arrival and resumed her severe secretarial garb. Her face, made up to Royal Naval Airship Service specifications, gave away nothing of what had transpired the night before. Did I imagine it? wondered MacKiernan. Perhaps it was all a dream.

"Miss Helga, Mister MacKiernan, Abercrombie, good day," she said pleasantly. "So that's Bougainville, What's the name of that volcano?"

As the others turned to examine the cone, she gave MacKiernan a barely perceptible smile.

So it wasn't a dream, he thought Go sabhailte Dia sinn!

A short time later, MacKiernan, Abercrombie, and Miss Perkins were standing at the foot of Buka's wharf, studying the town. Helga had gone in search of her informants, leaving them to see the sights, but there was little to see. To their left, clerks chatted idly outside the offices of a copper mining concern. Next to this, a Lutheran and Catholic church moldered side by side in the sun. At the modest Government house, a sentry lounged at his post watching the girls go by. The only exception to this pervasive air of lethargy was an Improved Cricket Class torpedo boat anchored near the mouth of the harbor. The Australian White Ensign flew proudly from her stern. MacKiernan glanced it uneasily, wondering why an Australian warship should have chosen just this moment to call at a German colony.

"What should we do now?" asked Abercrombie.

MacKiernan shrugged. "If we ask around, we might learn something useful."

"Are ye willing to put some money on that?"

"Gentlemen," said Miss Perkins sharply.

The search for news proved more difficult than they anticipated. In this most distant corner of the German Empire, no one seemed to feel any particular sense of urgency regarding events in the outside world. At last, frustrated, the trio took refuge in the closest thing Buka had to a cafe, where a waiter brought glasses of fermented coconut milk. MacKiernan was examining his, wondering if it was safe for human consumption, when he noticed a man in the dress whites of the Royal Australian Navy making his way toward their table.

"Mister MacKiernan I believe," said the man. "And these would be your companions Abercrombie and the lovely Miss Perkins." Like many upper-class Australians, he affected a British public school accent.

"You have us at a disadvantage," MacKiernan observed politely.

The man gave an unconvincing smile. "I apologize. I am Lieutenant-Commander Campbell, captain of the HMAS Swallowtail. You've led quite the chase since you left Lifuka, but your journey ends here. I've been instructed to make sure you do not leave Bougainville."

"Instructed by whom?"

The Australian shook his head. "You really don't expect an answer to that question, do you?"

"And how are you going to prevent us from leaving?" asked MacKiernan. "Will you open fire on a civilian vessel here in a German harbor?"

"No, but who can say what might happen once you are out of sight of land?"

"You might find you've bitten off more than you can chew," said MacKiernan, but they both knew he was bluffing. The Viking Girl II's deck gun might be adequate to deal with an ungainly and vulnerable submarine handled by an inexperienced crew. Against a warship manned by trained naval personnel, it would be of little use.

Helga grinned when they reported the encounter. "Ha!" she said. "Helga know how to deal with Australian!" She tossed her axe to a crewman and vanished into her cabin. Through the door, they could hear her rummaging through her belongings.

"Does she mean to murder the man?" asked Miss Perkins.

"Nae," said Abercrombie. "I ken the lassie has something roogher in mind."

"What do you mean?"

The Swede emerged from her cabin clad in a black silk dress designed by someone who'd clearly wished to economize on silk. The effect was stunning. "You wait here tonight," she announced gleefully. "Helga go make sure fellow in no shape to follow us tomorrow."

Miss Perkins watched the woman depart, momentarily at loss for words. "Does she... is she... could she really mean to..."

MacKiernan nodded. "I'm afraid so."

The Irishman awoke the next morning to the sound of the anchor being raised. He made his way to the wheelhouse to find Helga conning the Viking Girl II through the tricky passage between the north shore of Madehas and Buka.

"Helga take care of Captain Campbell!" she said with a laugh. "He not good for much today!"

MacKiernan resolved not to speculate how this had been accomplished. The answer was likely to be distressing. Instead, he watched the jungle slide by as he reviewed their situation. How had the Australian found them? The man's words had suggested he'd known where to look. Would more adversaries be waiting at Rabaul? If so, how could they avoid discovery?

They had cleared the channel and were heading out to sea when the lookout cried out from atop the aft derrick.

"Krigsfartyg babords!"

To port, the HMAS Swallowtail had rounded the southern tip of Madehas. Smoke billowed from her stacks as she turned to speed in their direction.

"Oopsies," said Helga, "that captain stronger than Helga thought. Or maybe he have lieutenant take over. What we do now?"

MacKiernan glanced at the afterdeck, where their improvised depth charges rested in their rack. "Perhaps we could rig those into some sort of mines. It`s a long shot, but..."

"Thar she blows again!" came a cry from the mast.

"Would you stop that!" grumbled someone.


To starboard, a periscope had broken the surface. Water boiled and a torpedo track began streaking toward their vessel. Helga snapped out a quick set of commands.

"Hard to starboard! Dodge torpedo! Then full speed ahead! We deal with submarine first!"

The freighter swung, quicker than MacKiernan would have believed possible. As they turned toward the periscope, it vanished with what he imagined was a faint plunk. Then the torpedo was racing past, almost close enough to touch.

"Ha," said someone, "it missed!"

"No it didn't," said someone else. "Lookie!"

MacKiernan turned to see the track heading toward the torpedo boat. Her crew seemed entirely unprepared for such an eventuality. MacKiernan found it hard to blame them -- they must have thought the situation dreadfully unfair. There was a muffled thump and the vessel began to settle by the bow.

"We reach where submarine been!" yelled Helga. "Drop the charges!"

On the fantail, the bosun yanked a lever. Six steel drums packed with dynamite rolled over the stern. Cords pulled tight, triggers fired, and a titanic explosion raised a mountain of water and spray behind them. The Swedes applauded. Abercrombie frowned.

"Wasn't that all of our depth charges?"

"Yes," said MacKiernan. "Let's hope that was all of their torpedoes."

Next week: Rabaul Without a Pause...

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