The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 153: Those Daring Young... Uh.... Men

Sarah on the flying trapeze

They circled the mystery ship, examining her from different angles. She was smaller than the Flying Cloud, with the enclosed external keel that was common before the War. At one time, three streamlined gondolas would have hung below this, but now the forward two were missing, with nothing but a tangle of girders to show where they'd been. Her hull was an unusual color: white with a broad golden band that would have been horizontal had she not been pitched up at almost a seventy degree angle. As far as they could tell, the vessel was abandoned.

"I've found her in Jane's," said Jenkins. "She's definitely a Junior Shorts Class. But she doesn't seem to have an `R' number."

"This suggests she was privately owned," said Everett. "I believe Bedfordshire built several of the ships for sale to gentlemen of means." This had been an inspired business decision by the Shorts brothers. The design, based on Vickers' War-era HMA-23 with improvements to reduce fixed weight and drag, had proved roomy, economical, and easy to handle -- valuable qualities for a yacht.

"I believe I've spotted a name," said MacKiernan. "There's a rather florid bit of calligraphy above the spot where her control car used to be."

"Windsong IV," read Everett, shaking his head. "I believe it's safe to assume this is not a naval or commercial vessel. We'll check the Lloyds Registry when we return to Cairns. Now we need to find a way to get an investigation party aboard."

"Could Davies put a few shots through her gas cells to bring her down?" asked Iverson hopefully.

"That could be an uncertain proposition," Everett observed. "The vessel might not reach the ground in a state to be investigated. And this will be an opportunity to practice our boarding procedures. We'll need someone with climbing skills, an experienced rigger, and an officer to oversee the operation. Mister Iverson..."

Sarah smiled as she sat in the sling. "This is going to be fun!" she announced, leaning back to set the hoist swinging.

"You understand how this will work?" Iverson asked nervously.

"Yes," replied the island girl. "Iwamoto will lower me to the other ship while the Captain maintains station above it. Once I'm close enough, I'll catch the mooring fitting with this grapple, pull myself over, and make fast the cable. Then you and Abercrombie will abseil down with parachutes and tools."

Iverson nodded, trying to look unconcerned. The operation might seem simple, but it would require skillful ship handling and an expert hand at the hoist controls. "Are you ready?" he asked Iwamoto.

"Hai," said the engineer.


Gears whined and the hoist began its descent. Everett had already ordered the Number Two Engine put astern at half power while Numbers One and Three ran ahead at one quarter. Now he'd be keeping the Flying Cloud in position with delicate adjustments to throttle and ballast until the party was across.

"Thirty more yards..." came Sarah's voice over the intercom, "...twenty... ten... slow down."

At the Transporter controls, Iwamoto eased back the power knob.

"Stop... up six feet... hold it there while I give it a throw. Whoops!"

Iverson glanced down through the hatchway in alarm. Below them, Sarah was reeling in the grappling hook in preparation for another cast. From this distance, she looked terribly small and vulnerable.

"Dinnae worry, lad," said Abercrombie. "She's a strong lassie."

"Got it!" came Sarah's voice. "I'm aboard now. Give me some slack."

Cable unreeled from the drum. Now the other ship would be descending under the influence of the islands girl's weight. On their own vessel, Everett would be venting hydrogen to compensate.

"All secure! You can come down and join me, John!"

Iverson and Abercrombie made the abseil without incident. Once they reached the derelict, they cast off the hoist before the two ships could drift out of position. They were on their own now. If they couldn't land their prize, they'd have to parachute to safety. The lieutenant glanced down past the curve of the hull. It was a small island floating in the sky, with the mooring fitting pointing upward like some strange metal tree. Below them, the ground looked absurdly far away.

"Shall we proceed?" he asked, doing his best to sound resolute.

"Let me go first!" said Sarah.

The made their way down along the keel passage. This proved difficult to negotiate, for it had been designed as a walkway rather than a ladder. Sarah led the way, clambering down the girders that framed its sides with casual nonchalance. Abercrombie brought up the rear, humming a cheerful tune -- Iverson recognized `Scotland the Brave'. Around them, the hull was dark. Whatever disaster had struck the vessel had also extinguished her lights, leaving only such illumination as filtered through the hull fabric. There was no sound of wind, since the airship was not under power, but her structure still creaked in response to changes in stress, like some great deserted mansion.

At last the trio reached the spot where the control car had hung. In its place, they found a tangle of broken girders and splintered branches. The latter smelled strongly of mint.

"Eucalyptus," said Sarah.

"Aye," said Abercrombie. "The car must hae brushed through some trees and tore free. After it was gone, the rest of the ship would hae climbed."

"Do you think the occupants survived?" asked the island girl.

"It's possible," said Iverson. "I believe the Germans had a similar experience during the War. Let's see if anyone was left behind in the hull."

A few frames farther down, they came upon the crew's accommodations. This was an enlarged section of keel with a row of bunks on either side -- the owners and guests would presumably have occupied staterooms in the control car. Now, bedrolls, blankets, and gear had spilled out to lie on the aft bulkhead. Nearby, several static lines dangled from an emergency hatch.

"It looks like some of her people parachuted to safety."

"Eight, I ken," said Abercrombie, counting the lines. "That would leave another eight or so in the control car."

"What's this?" asked Sarah, retrieving something white from the clutter at their feet.

"Guid laird!" exclaimed Abercrombie. "It's a cigarette butt!"

"I think its safe to say this was not left by the vessel's regular crew," said Iverson when he'd recovered from his shock. "It's hard to imagine the owners tolerating such behavior."

"So someone else put a party aboard after the wreck," said Abercrombie. "'Twas a brae feat."

"I wonder what they were looking for," mused Iverson.

"No one could hope to find anything in this mess," observed Sarah.

"Dinnae be sae certain," said Abercrombie. He felt along several bunk frames, then gave a cry of triumph and withdrew a small envelope. "Ha! I thought so! We always used to keep letters and personal belongings there on the old Admiralty Class."

The envelope proved to contain a photograph of a young woman in a summer dress. It might have been taken anywhere in England, but there was no writing or other clue to indicate who she might have been. Iverson studied it, then sighed.

"We'll save this for Jenkins," he said. "Perhaps he can make something of it."

Some distance below the crew section, they came to another gaping hole where the missing engine car had been. There were no splintered branches here -- it seemed the car had broken free on its own sometime after the crash.

"Where do you think it fell?" asked Sarah.

Iverson thought for a moment, then laughed. "I imagine that was the `bomb' they reported at Julatten. It must have come as something of a shock."

They pressed on down to the tail cone, assessing the vessel's condition as they went. Except for the missing cars, her structure seemed intact. Her ballast was gone, but the maneuvering valves still worked and there was fuel in the tanks they could discharge to control their descent.

"D'ye ken we can land her?" asked Abercrombie.

Iverson studied the temperature sounding he'd brought along. "I believe so. There's an inversion layer below us that should make things easier.

"Good!" said the Scotsman. "MacKiernan and I hae some money riding on the matter."

Next week: Another Fine Day On The Atherton Tableland...

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