Episode Episode 280: Barely Breathing
"Where away, Mister Murdock?" asked Everett.
"To port, bearing 350, about 45 degrees down from the horizon," Murdock
Everett swept his glasses over the water until he spotted what his
lieutenant had seen -- a ragged figure clinging to a life preserver. As he
watched, the figure raised one arm in a feeble attempt to wave. Everett
stepped to the intercom.
"Davies, report. Do you see any sign of the vessel that attacked the
"No, sir," said the marine. "There are no other ships in sight."
"Fleming, join Davies in the Upper Lookout Station. We'll want an extra set
of eyes there. Iwamoto, Loris, and Cameron, be ready for some maneuvering.
MacKiernan, please take the helm so Abercrombie can go aft and prepare the
winch. Iverson, you and Mister Murdock will handle the rescue."
"How will we proceed, sir?" asked Iverson.
"We won't want to risk a landing or prolonged hoist operations when there
could be a hostile ship in the vicinity, so you will deploy in the launch,"
said Everett. "We'll stand off while you recover the survivor, then
retrieve you as expeditiously as possible."
"What shall we do if the attacker returns while we're down?"
"We will draw the fellows off, to give you a chance to escape," said
Everett. "With careful handling, the launch should have enough fuel to get
you to the Philippines."
"Yes, sir," said Iverson. If he had any qualms about the prospect, he hid
They took the Flying Cloud down to 100' -- perilously close
to the waves -- brought her into the wind, and reversed the propellers to
slow the ship to a stop. For the next several minutes, the bridge and
engineering crew juggled controls and throttles to maintain station while
the hoist made its descent. Everett tried not to fret at the wait. If the
attacker should chose this moment to reappear, things would go badly for
him and his people.
"The launch is clear," called Abercrombie.
"Thank you," said Everett. "MacKiernan, increase speed to 35 knots.
Wallace bring her up to 2000'."
"Speed to 35."
"Climb to 2000'."
"Sky's still clear, sir," came the report from the lookouts.
"Very good. MacKiernan, begin a standard rate turn to the left."
The exec eased the wheel to port and the airship began a broad circle above
the rescue operation. Below them, the launch had started its engine and
was pounding its way through the waves toward the survivor. As it
approached, the figure ceased waving and seemed to slump. But now Iverson
was pulling alongside and Murdock was reaching down to haul the victim
aboard. Everett watched with approval.
"It looks like they have the fellow," he observed. "We will finish this
turn, bring the ship down to 100' again, and maintain station as before.
Jenkins, signal Iverson to rendezvous and pick up the hoist as quickly as
possible. The sooner we're back at altitude, the better."
The Flying Cloud didn't have a sick bay, but she did have several
spare staterooms that could be pressed into service for this purpose. The
survivor lay in one, attended by Davies, who'd picked up some medical
skills during the War. The patient was a young man in airship company garb,
with a distinct Asian cast to his features. From his uniform, it appeared
he'd been a steward. He was badly sunburned, skin blistered and peeling,
with several abrasions he must have suffered during the crash. He seemed to
be unconscious when the captain entered.
"What is his condition?" Everett asked Davies.
"He's dehydrated and in shock," said the marine. "Otherwise he seems
uninjured. I've rigged up a saline drip, and I expect him to recover after
he gets enough rest."
"Let me know when the fellow's able to talk," said Everett. "We may want
Iwamoto here to translate."
"You don't need a translator," came a weak voice from the bed. "I can speak
English. What ship is this?"
They turned to see that their guest watching them with a worried expression.
He seemed to be keeping his eyes open by sheer force of will. Captain
Everett moved to reassure him.
"You're aboard the Flying Cloud, His Majesty's Airship R-505," he
replied. "I am Captain Roland P Everett, Royal Navy Airship Service. Who
are you and what became of your vessel?"
The man appeared to relax for a moment, then forced himself to speak. His
English was surprisingly good, as if his profession demanded some facility
with the language. "I am Kuro Tsumura, chief steward of the
Shiratori Maru," he told them. "We were en route east from Cebu
when we were approached by an unknown airship. Captain Saikaku hailed them
to ask who they were, but instead of replying, they opened fire. Kuroda
was trying to send a distress call when we went down."
"Your radioman got part of the message out," said Everett. "That's how we
found you. What happened then?"
"Captain Saikaku managed to land the ship safely," said Tsumura. "He
ordered us into the life rafts, but then the attacker opened fire again.
Their first salvo struck the control car, killing the Captain and most
of his officers. Then they started shooting the survivors. I was caught in
the wreckage as it sank. That must be how they missed me. By the time I'd
freed myself and swum back to the surface, everyone else was dead."
Everett considered the steward's story. Could the man be a plant, his tale
a fabrication designed to place him in their confidence? This seemed
unlikely. The Shiratori Maru's attackers could have had no way of
knowing the Flying Cloud would arrive to rescue him in time.
"What the other vessel look like?" he asked.
Tsumrua's face contorted in anger. "I will never forget that ship," he
spat. "It was a giant, at least twice the size of our own, with a row of
four engines on each side."
"Sir," Davies said in a worried tone.
"I know," said Everett. Then he laid a hand on the steward's shoulder.
"Rest," he said. "You're safe now. We will speak of this more after
you've regained your strength."
Murdock helped Abercrombie secure the launch, then went forward to take his
turn escorting Kim. As always, he found it hard to read the Korean woman's
mood, but she seemed subdued, as if she'd sensed some of the crew's tension
even through the language barrier.
"What is doings?" she asked him "I not knowing."
How much should he say, Murdock wondered? He'd been warned not to reveal
any sensitive information, but surely there could be no harm in telling her
what had happened.
"We received a distress call from a Japanese government packet," he said.
"Someone attacked them and brought them down, but we managed to rescue a
"Who attack Japan ship?" asked the woman. Something about her manner
suggested that the deed met with her approval.
"It was giant cruiser of unknown origin."
The woman's expression underwent a subtle change. It was hard to read, but
Murdock sensed an element of surprise. "Attacker giant cruiser," she said.
This was clearly a question.
"Yes," said Murdock. "I understand the Captain has seen this ship before.
We have no idea who she belongs to."
Her eyebrows furrowed, as if she was trying make sense of some unexpected
discovery. "Thank you tells me," she replied.
Next week: Seeking Clues in the Santa Cruz...
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