The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 303: Called to Task

I will not allow the villains to escape

Michaelson and Everett stood outside the door like students waiting to be brought before the headmaster. The resemblance was heightened by the venue: one of the classrooms at the Cairns Royal Air Station. Facing them, a marine guard gazed straight ahead with the impassive expression that was a trademark of marines dating back to the age of Caesar... particularly when they were in the presence of superior officers who were about to be called onto the carpet.

At last the door swung open and an aide appeared to address the two men. "The Admiral will see you now," he announced.

They found Admiral Wentworth seated at the desk studying a set of papers. The Admiral did not deign to look up as they entered. Is he really reading those, Everett wondered, or is he just using them as a prop? The ways of flag officers were subtle, and not for lesser men to understand, but the effect was undeniable, and left them no doubt as to where they stood.

"You sent for us, sir?" said Michaelson.

The Admiral squared the pages and set them aside. "So I did," he replied calmly. "I have been reviewing your activities over the past several weeks. These do not seem to have been conspicuously successful. You began by allowing a known agent to sabotage your station here in Cairns. When you investigated the explosion, you apprehended this enigmatic Korean woman, Kim, whose motives and allegiances you were quite unable to discover. Instead of interrogating her, to see what information she might have had about the attack, you recommended using the German nationalists we were holding in Sydney in an elaborate plan to draw out the principals involved. The net result, after a considerable expenditure in time and resources, was the loss of a private airship to an adventuress."

So it was Michaelson's idea to let Sigmund and his men escape, thought Everett, I'd wondered about that. But he knew better than to let his thoughts show.

"The operation was not entirely fruitless," said Michaelson. "We induced the masters of the mysterious cruiser to make an appearance. In the process, we established that they are almost certainly Japanese militarists, and learned that they are at odds with the Fat Man and his German nationalists."

"Against this we must balance the flight of several of the Fat Man's minions, who I allowed to escape on your recommendation."

"We did recapture most of them when we retook the patrol boat," said Michaelson.

"Most... but not all," said the Admiral. "And the ones who got away will bring an interesting tale to this so-called Fat Man. There was also a very serious security breach here at your station when your aide, Phelps, proved to be working for the British Union."

"I was the one who exposed him," Michaelson noted. "I reported this to your office and we agreed to use him to funnel misleading information to his masters."

"And what was the result of this stratagem?" asked the Admiral. "Your station was bombed, you let the Korean woman slip through your hands, and Lady Warfield made off with the N-187."

"Mister Cartwell did not seem unduly upset by the loss of the vessel," said Everett, concerned by the direction this conversation was heading. He and Michaelson might well be at odds, but there were some matters that called for solidarity.

"Nor did either of you," noted the Admiral, "an interesting state of affairs, given that you both are known to have had a... personal connection with the Baroness."

"She was not a baroness then," Everett replied curtly. Surely Wentworth did not believe he would conspire with the woman who'd broken off their engagement on the eve of their wedding and left to marry the Baron.

"No," the Admiral admitted, "I suppose she wasn't. I apologize for anything I might have implied. Do either of you have any clue as to what the lady might be up to?"

"No, sir," said Everett. "I'd assumed that she and her husband were safely on their way back to England."

"We must never underestimate the resources these peers can command," said the Admiral. "The couple must have called in some favors so that she could return unnoticed. You should have anticipated such an eventuality... which brings us to your recent activities."

"Sir?" said Everett, bracing himself for the worst.

The Admiral glanced at the papers beside him and shook his head. "I cannot fault your skill at extricating your people from a difficult situation," he observed, "but I also cannot help but wonder how you allowed this situation to arise in the first place. You walked straight into the Baroness's trap in the Marshall Islands. Surely you must have guessed your adversaries would maintain a presence on Bikini. Your plans for this eventuality were... skimpy. You were only rescued by the merest chance, and you squandered this stroke of fortune when you left the Korean woman in a position to take the patrol boat from your men."

Everett began to reply that this was not the whole story, then reconsidered. This might not be the wisest defense when he didn't have the slightest idea what the `whole story' might be.

"There is also the matter of your crew arrangements," the Admiral continued. "The Royal Naval Airship Service allows a certain latitude in this area, and it is hardly unknown for one of His Majesty's Airships to carry a member of the fairer sex in some capacity appropriate to their gender, such as purser, meteorologist, unarmed combat instructor, or captain of marines, but three attractive young ladies serving as ballast officers does seem a bit much."

"Yes, sir," Everett said meekly.

Beside him Michaelson seemed equally subdued. If the he was grateful for the distraction Everett had provided, he gave no sign of this. "What are your orders, sir?" he asked.

The Admiral studied their faces, then scribbled down a note, added it to their report, and set the folder aside.

"As of today, I am suspending the investigation into nationalist activity in the South Pacific while my office determines if this is an effective use of Royal Navy resources," he announced. "In the interim, we have a routine job that should lie within your abilities. We have received several reports of attacks by..." the Admiral pursed his lips as if he found the concept objectionable, "...airship pirates in the Java Sea. This lies within your operational area, and we understand that Captain Everett has encountered fellows of this ilk in the past. You will investigate these reports and take appropriate measures. Dismissed."

Next week: A Link to the Past...

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