Episode 303: Called to Task
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
"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
"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,"
"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
"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
"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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