Episode 217: Has Anyone Seen Fleming?
Everett, Jenkins, Iverson, and Sarah sat with Emily and Clarice at a
restaurant by the harbor -- one of several small cafés that had sprung
up during the wave of prosperity that followed the Peace. Since there was no
way to hide the meeting from Michaelson's agents, this highly public place
had seemed like a good venue. Its eclectic mix of customers, ranging from
stevedores to visiting businessmen, would screen them from casual
observation, while Pierre sat at nearby table to watch for eavesdroppers.
Emily was obviously enjoying the adventure. "This is ace!" she announced.
"Darwin gets so dull during the Wet. We might have gone troppo if
Fleming hadn't shown up and asked us to carry a message to Cairns."
"And what might this message have been?" asked Everett.
The brunette's eyes sparkled. Good tradecraft, thought Everett.
No watcher would ever have guessed her mission. "He wanted to get back to
the Flying Cloud," she replied, "but he knew he couldn't reach
Cairns ahead the Commodore's ship, so he arranged passage to some island
called Oa Ki."
"Oa Ki?" said Iverson. "Why ever would he go there?"
Beside Emily, Clarice gave a shrug. She seemed somewhat less enthusiastic
than her companion. "He hoped to anticipate your next destination," said
the blonde. "He thought you might return to the atoll to investigate
something you found there, though he didn't seem too clear on what that
thing might be."
Everett sighed. "I suppose we can't fault the man's initiative, but I
wish he hadn't chosen this moment to exercise it. We'll have to find him
before Michaelson or Clark notice he's missing. If they learn that we've
misplaced an airman, there'll be the devil to pay.
"How will we manage the flight to Oa Ki?" asked Jenkins, "It's more than
fifteen hundred miles from Cairns."
"Suppose we started from Darwin," suggested Sarah. "Then we could nip
across the Timor Sea when no one was looking."
"That might work," mused the signalman, "but we'd need some cover story to
explain our visit to the Northern Territory."
"Michaelson's would-be hijackers will provide us with our excuse," said
Everett. "When they were captured, they were wearing insignia of the
British Union. We know those fellows have been active in Darwin. We'll
claim to be investigating a connection. For all we know, there might
actually be one."
"What about Fleming?" asked Iverson.
"He must have reached Oa Ki by now," said Everett. "We must hope he can
hold out until we arrive."
Fleming sat on the only available seat and contemplated his cell.
It wasn't much to look at. The submarine didn't have any provisions for
holding prisoners, so his captors had pressed one of the vessel's two heads
into service for this purpose. The results were not particularly
satisfactory for anyone concerned.
Footsteps sounded outside. Moments later, the door opened to reveal a
lieutenant flanked by several men whose expressions betrayed a certain
amount of impatience. He gestured for Fleming to follow him. As the airman
stepped into the corridor, he heard a trample of feet behind him, accompanied
by sighs of relief.
"This way, mate," said his guide. "Mind your noggin. Some of these
overheads are a bit low." Without waiting for a reply, he led the way aft.
Fleming shrugged to himself, then followed. It wasn't as if he had any
place to escape to.
This was the Aussie's first good look at the inside of a submarine. The
cramped compartments, crammed with unidentifiable equipment, compared quite
unfavorably with the accommodations aboard an airship. Crewmen squeezed
past on nameless errands or sat stoically at the controls. Propellers
churned in the background, accompanied by the whine of reduction gears and
a sound Fleming recognized as the drone of a turbine.
Could this possibly be Fuller's boat? he wondered. We never
did learn what happened to the chappie, and there can't be that many
steam-powered submarines larking about the Pacific.
His question was answered when they reached a small cabin. Inside, a
middle-aged man in gentleman's dress was making an entry in a log. Fleming
recognized Fuller from Captain Everett's description. The British Union
leader looked more like a misplaced history professor than a member of some
dire nationalist conspiracy.
Fuller looked up as they entered. "Good day," he said politely. "I am
Captain Omen, and this is my ship, the Sulituan."
"Sulituan?" asked Fleming, wondering at the reason for these
"She's named after an..." Fuller paused as if thinking,
"...Indian goddess. Might I ask your name?"
Fleming hid his surprise. Could it be these people didn't realize who he
was? This was certainly possible. These errant members of a British
fascist society would have no reason to
recognize an anonymous Royal Navy airman. "I'm..." he wracked his brain for
a reply, then remembered an American novel he'd read as a youth,
"...Starbuck, Able Seaman First Class, Commonwealth Navy Reserve."
Fuller's smile seemed entirely sincere. "Welcome aboard, Mister Starbuck,"
he announced. "Would you care for some coffee?"
"Sounds good, mate!" replied Fleming.
"Allow me to apologize for the circumstances of your arrival," his host said
as cups were being poured. "That torpedo must have gone off by accident.
I've warned my men to be more careful next time."
"Right," said Fleming, as convincingly as he could manage. "What happened to
"Fortunately for them, the warhead proved something of a squib.
The last we saw of your ship, she was down by the bows, but seemed in no
danger of sinking. I imagine her crew have patched her up by now. We'd have
offered to help if we hadn't been busy fishing you out of the water."
Boldness seemed like the best response. "Thanks, Captain Omen," said
Fleming. "You saved me a bit of a swim. What brought you to the Dutch East
"I'm a yachtsman," Fuller said airily. "Out for a cruise among the
"With torpedoes?" asked Fleming.
His host gave a dismissive gesture. "You can never be too careful, Mister
Starbuck. Pirates, you know. But whatever were your people doing here?
This seems like a strange place to find an Australian Navy vessel."
In for a shilling, in for a pound, thought Fleming. "The Skipper
was looking for some place called Oa Ki," he replied, watching for his
Fuller and his lieutenant exchanged glances. "Sir?" the lieutenant began in
a worried voice. "Do you think they could be looking for..."
Fuller cut the man short with a gesture. "We will speak of this latter."
He turned back to Fleming and smiled in apology. "Pardon us," he said, "a
minor domestic dispute. Do you have any idea why your captain was
interested in the place?" His manner was suspiciously casual.
Fleming sensed he was in danger of getting in over his head. "No," he
replied. "Skipper never told us a thing."
"I understand," said his host, "and I thank you for your time. Now I must
be getting back to my duties. We'd be pleased if you would remain aboard as
our guest until we have an opportunity to put you ashore."
It wasn't hard for Fleming to figure this one out. "No worries, mate," he
replied with a smile. Sooner or later his hosts would slip up, and he'd have
a chance to escape.
Next week: How Hard Can It Be To Find A Large Plainly-Marked Airship?...
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