Episode 152: Things To Do On A Rainy Day
Rain swept across the Cairns Royal Air Station, flooding the sidewalks,
drenching the fields, turning the roads to mud. Outside, a few unfortunate
souls scurried between the buildings, hunched against the downpour. But
inside Captain Michaelson's office, the atmosphere was dry.
Everett and Jenkins would have preferred the rain.
The two men sat in straight-backed chairs, waiting while an orderly brought
in tea. On the other side of his desk, Michaelson leaned back in his seat.
The senior captain seemed at ease. This was always cause for concern.
"I felt Miss Perkins deserved some leave," he remarked. "But I believe
you'll find that Ensign Phelps brews an acceptable cup."
Everett waited the polite amount of time, then ventured a sip. It was an
unremarkable black that would have taken little effort to prepare. If he'd
had any doubts that this was to be a confrontation, this would have put them
to rest. "You asked to see us?" he replied.
"Yes," said Michaelson. "We've just finished questioning your Lieutenant
Blacker and I thought you might be interested in the report."
"I wouldn't say he's `our' lieutenant," Everett observed, taking care to
disassociate himself from the renegade's treason. If his adversary wished to
seize the moral high ground, he'd have to try a little harder. "He forfeited
his claim to a commission when he threw in with Mosley's lot."
"True," mused Michaelson. If he was disappointed Everett had recognized the
gambit, he gave no sign. "Be this as it may, the man proved fairly
cooperative, though was reticent about some matters."
"I take it he's been working for this British Union of Fascists for some
"Since before he was posted to the Pacific, though he was somewhat vague
about the precise circumstances of his recruitment."
"Did he have anything to say about the German nationalists or the mysterious
cruiser that attacked us?"
"It seems Mosley's people are at odds with the former, though he wasn't able
to add much to the information we already have. In particular, he has no
idea what the Fat Man's plans might be now. As for the latter, his only
words on the subject were, `Blimey, those chaps must have built another!'"
"Rather cryptic," Jenkins observed.
"Quite," said Michaelson. "You wouldn't have discovered anything that might
shed light on this matter?" His manner was causal, as befitted an
"I can't say that we have," said Everett carefully. If the senior captain
noticed his deception, he gave no sign of this either. "How did Blacker
manage to escape from the wreck of the R-212?"
"It appears that your chief engineer, Lieutenant Page, was able to bring the
stern section down to a safe landing in the Pacific. The survivors were in
the process of deploying a life raft when the cruiser arrived to take them
prisoner. Most of them submitted, since they had no other hope of rescue,
but Blacker elected to conceal himself in the wreck."
"That would seem rather reckless unless he knew Fuller was in a position to
pick him up before it sank," Jenkins observed. "This suggests he was privy
to the British Union's plans."
"So we have guessed," said Michaelson, "but here we encountered one of
Blacker's areas of reticence. Under ordinary circumstances, we might have
negotiated by offering him some measure of clemency during his
courts-martial, but we'd already received instructions from Sydney to
proceed with utmost severity."
Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances. This information could be
interpreted in a variety of ways.
"Really," said Everett. "Do we have any idea where this instruction
"No," said Michaelson, "and I am hesitant to ask for clarification."
Everett thought furiously. Was Michaelson warning them about a possible
conspiracy in Admiral Wentworth's office or was he merely feeding them rope
in hope they'd save him the expense of a hangman? "Then it seems we'll
have to seek our answers from Fuller," he replied nonchalantly, "and he's
gone to ground, or underwater, as the case may be."
Michaelson nodded and reached for the teapot. As usual, his expression gave
away nothing. At that moment there was a knock on the door, and Ensign
Phelps burst in.
"Excuse the interruption, sir," said the signalman, handing his superior a
message flimsy, "but we've received word from an operator in Julatten. It
seems they've been struck by a bomb."
"A bombing raid, in this weather?" the senior captain seemed offended by the
prospect. "What a strange thing for someone to do."
As special subjects of Michaelson's ire, Everett and his crew had drawn the
unenviable assignment of mooring at one of the high masts, ready to respond
to an alert. Under ordinary circumstances, this would have meant nothing
more than extra watches and extra maintenance. Now it meant a chance to
distinguish themselves -- a consequence that cannot have filled their
adversary with glee.
By the time Everett reached the ship, his men were at lift stations,
preparing the Flying Cloud for her sortie. This was a
time-consuming process. During the War, Everett had seen newsreels of
pilots in the fixed-winged air service rushing to their craft for a
`scramble'. With an airship, the pace was more of an `amble'. But he'd
trained his crew well, and within an hour, they were heading northwest at 55
knots. By now, the clouds were breaking up, giving them a stunning view
of the Dividing Range below. To the west, the waters of Lake Mitchell
glimmered in the sun.
"What does the Almanac have to say about this Julatten?" Everett asked
"It's a small hamlet a few miles north of Mount Molloy," said the navigation
officer. "It had a population of thirty-six at the last census, and its
principal product appears to be mangoes. I can't imagine why anyone would
want to bomb the place."
"Perhaps they have an aversion to chutney," said Sarah. With a straight
face, no less.
"I suppose this is possible," mused Everett. "Is that it up ahead?"
"I believe so," said MacKiernan. "But I don't see any sign of an
Everett had to agree. He didn't see much sign of anything except a few
small bungalows and orchards of what he assumed was genus
Mangifera. "They're quite sure they were bombed?"
"At approximately 1120 local time, according to their message," said Jenkins.
Everett glanced at the clock. "Mister Iverson," he said, "what was this
afternoon's wind forecast?"
"Six to twelve knots, varying between south and east."
"Mister MacKiernan, plot us a search pattern to the northwest."
The search pattern was an elaborate zig-zag -- a succession of
ever-lengthening arcs to the northeast and southwest calculated to bring
them within sight of an object drifting downwind from Julatten. Shortly
after two, Davies called over the intercom.
"Upper Lookout to Bridge, I've spotted something ahead, bearing 320, twenty
degrees above the horizon."
"What is it?"
"I honestly can't say, sir."
The three officers exchanged glances, then reached for their binoculars. It
didn't take them long to spot it: a slender gold and white tower, tilted
slightly to the side, drifting high above the clouds.
"Could that possibly be an airship?" asked Iverson.
"If it is, it's badly out of trim," observed MacKiernan.
"A Junior Shorts Class, I believe," said Everett. "One can recognize them
by the configuration of the keel. They appear to have suffered some mishap."
"I'll say," said Iverson, peering through his glasses. "Her control car and
forward engine car are missing!"
"Interesting," mused Everett. "These are hardly the sort of things one can
misplace. I suppose we'd better look into the matter."
"Sir?" asked the lieutenant. He seemed to be dreading the answer.
"We'll take station above them and send a party down to investigate."
Next week: Those Daring Young... Uh... Men...
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