The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 299: Survive the Tranquil Lagoon!

A (very) small naval action

Sand grated beneath the bow of the cutter: the faintest of whispers in the night. At a gesture from Michaelson, Hans slipped ashore to reconnoiter. MacKiernan and the others waited at their oars, ready to pull away if they were discovered. Would they have enough warning, wondered the Irishman? They couldn't outrow a bullet.

At last Hans returned. "There are no guards at this end of the island," he reported.

Michaelson nodded to his companions. "Gentlemen, shall we?"

The six men dragged the boat up to the treeline, swept the beach to erase any signs of their passage, and set off through the jungle. Some instinct kept them to the upwind side, for this did not seem like a healthy place. Strange calls echoed from the darkness around them. MacKiernan wondered what manner of creatures were responsible. These did not seem like the usual sounds of a tropical island at night.

They reached the end of the grove as the moon was clearing the horizon. Ahead lay a dark expanse of burnt and fallen trees. Beyond this, they could see a row of tents. MacKiernan studied them through a pair of night glasses.

"That must be where the Japanese scientists are camped," he whispered to Michaelson. "I only see one sentry."

"Sigmund's people would hardly need to post more," the senior captain whispered back. "As long as they hold the airship, this island is a prison."

"We could take the laddie," suggested Abercrombie.

Michaelson shook his head. "That would give the game away. We will keep to our original plan."

Hours crawled past in the way they do while men are waiting for an action. MacKiernan tried not to fret. How would Finn MacCool have faced this situation, he asked himself? He tried to imagine the mythical Irish chieftain crouched beside a palm tree with surf whispering in the background, then abandoned the effort.

At last the sun peeked above the horizon. Michaelson rose and straightened his jacket. "Gentlemen," he announced, "it is time."

The nationalists left them uniforms: ugly brown shirts, matching trousers, and tall leather boots entirely unsuitable for a Pacific island. MacKiernan felt terribly conspicuous in his, but no one raised the alarm as they marched along the beach. The Germans' strategy of keeping most of their men on the airship left them with no way to watch for intruders.

They reached the wharf to find one of Lady Warfield's crewmen sitting on a bollard. The man gave them an incurious glance. "What's your business?" he grumbled.

"We haf a message from Sigmund. Take us to your kapitan," said Dietrich. MacKiernan thought he was laying the accent on a little thick.

The crewman sighed, heaved himself to his feet, and led them aboard. At a nod from Michaelson, Abercrombie, Hans, and Loris turned aft toward the engine room while the rest of the party followed the man to the wheelhouse. Inside, a second man was dozing with a magazine over his face.

The contest that followed was somewhat one-sided. They had just finished securing their prisoners when Abercrombie appeared.

"We found two men in the engine room, but they were nae trooble," said the Scotsman. "There's no one else aboard."

MacKiernan frowned. "Where could Lady Warfield have got to?"

Michaelson glanced toward the moored airship. "She must have gone ashore with most of her men. Knowing her..." the senior captain paused, " matter, this should not affect our plan."

Moments later they were backing away from the dock. No one on shore seemed to have noticed their departure. MacKiernan was congratulating himself on a successful operation when Dietrich called from bow.

"Meine Herren, you will want to look at this."

"Wake up, lieutenant!"

Murdock opened his eyes to find Miss Perkins glaring at him. He raised his head, looked around, and saw that they were sitting on a beach next to a small life raft.

"What happened?" he asked.

"We're on Ujelang," the secretary replied curtly. "Your prisoner set us adrift and we blew ashore here. How did she manage to overcome you?"

"She pointed at something behind me," Murdock complained. "When I turned to look, she knocked me out."

"You fell for that trick?" exclaimed Miss Perkins. "Didn't they teach you anything at the Naval College?"

"It was not part of the regular curriculum," Murdock admitted. "What about you?

The secretary scowled. "I was at the wireless, wearing a headset. I couldn't hear her coming. We will have a rematch someday, Miss Kim and I."

Murdock clambered to his feet. "We'll have to catch up with the shore party," he announced. "They must be warned."

Miss Perkins pointed toward the wharf, where the yacht was getting underway. "It may be too late for that," she observed. "Can we get back to the patrol boat?"

Murdock turned and frowned. "It may be too late for that too. Look."

A small motor launch had pulled alongside the Todstalker. As they watched, a puff of smoke burst from the patrol boat's exhaust stacks.

Miss Perkins frowned. "I don't like the looks of that."

Abercrombie frowned as the Todstalker turned in their direction. On the foredeck, they could see two men unlimbering the deck gun. "I don't like the looks of that," he remarked.

"Neither do I," said MacKiernan. "How the devil did they know to take the patrol boat?"

"It may be premature to speculate," Michaelson observed. "Our immediate concern must be survival. Can we outrun them?"

MacKiernan shook his head. "That vessel's top speed is 45 knots. I doubt this yacht can do much more than 12."

Michaelson nodded. "Then we shall have to resort to other measures. Let us see what the baroness left us in the way of armaments."

Clarice watched in puzzlement as the two vessels sped away. Gunfire flashed from their decks. "Whatever are they up to?" she asked.

"They seem to be shooting at each other," Emily observed. "That must be good news."

Mister Cartwell turned to eye his airship, which rode from the mast behind them. "It could be our chance to get rid of our captors, if we can turn on the Philadelphian's mechanical mooring release."

Clarice, Emily, and Aunt Behema exchanged glances. "Mechanical mooring release?"

"It was a project of mine," the industrialist told them. "After all, I do design automatic controls. It's a clockwork mechanism that can release the mooring and drop ballast. This would leave the Germans trapped aboard the ship. They can't possibly manage her. They don't have any airmen."

Emily brightened. "It would be just like an escape, in reverse!"

"Yes," laughed Mister Cartwell. "But someone will have to go aboard to start the timer."

Aunt Behema snorted. "Leave that to me."

MacKiernan spun the helm as a shell exploded to port. Unable to outrun the Todstalker, they'd chosen to dodge through the passages of the reef. He'd seen these from the air the year before, and navigators in the Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to remember such things. Unfortunately, their pursuers seemed to know the passages too.

"Their gunnery is not very remarkable," said Hans.

"Neither is ours," grumbled MacKiernan. He gestured to the foredeck, where Abercrombie and Dietrich were struggling with the cannon. "It's a pity Davies isn't here."

"Quite," said Michaelson. MacKiernan wondered how the senior captain could be so insouciant. They were hopelessly outmatched.

As if on cue a puff of smoke burst from their pursuer's engine house. MacKiernan stared, then turned to see the Flying Cloud approaching from the west.

"How did they get here?" he asked.

"You will remember that we called them here to deal with the Philadelphian," Michaelson told him, "and small surface warships are an airship's natural prey."

"Oh, yes, right."

Had the senior captain planned this too, MacKiernan wondered? The man was devious enough. Did it matter? Be it design or coincidence, it seemed they'd won.

Abercrombie cried out from the foredeck. "Crivvens!"

MacKiernan and Michaelson glanced where the Scotsman was pointing. Their jaws dropped.

"Oh dear," said Michaelson.

Next week: On Second Thought, Maybe I'd Rather Not Be On The Philadelphian...

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