The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 316: What Are The Girls Up To?

Emily and Clarice peeking around a desk

The room where the North Australia Railroad kept its shipping records might have been some Platonic ideal of record storage rooms, of which all other archives were but imperfect shadows. The lighting seemed strategically placed to provide an atmosphere of gloom. The furnishings gave an impression of timeless age. The file cabinets, in particular, would not have looked out of place in ancient Sumeria. Somehow, the place managed to remain dusty even though it was near the harbor.

Clarice replaced the folder she'd been examining and slid the drawer shut in annoyance.

"This is crook," she announced. "These invoices only list shipping numbers. They don't say anything about what was in those shipments."

"There must be some cross-reference between these numbers and the actual cargos," Emily said optimistically.

Clarice snorted. "It's probably back at the home office in Alice Springs."

Her companion might have replied, but at that moment a key rattled in the lock. The two women barely had time to hide behind a desk before the door swung open. They peeked underneath to see two pairs of shoes walk across the room. One was unremarkable, such as a clerk might wear. The other looked expensive.

A drawer slid open. This was followed by sound of someone flipping through files.

"You remember the number of the oil shipment," said a voice accustomed to command. The accent was unmistakably German.

"DARC-310A," said a second more subservient voice.

"Do you remember the number of the oil shipment?" Emily whispered to Clarice.

"A013-CRAD... backwards," Clarice whispered back.

"Oh, go on!"

Out in the room, the second voice gave a grunt of satisfaction. "I've found it!"

"Good," said the first voice. "The fuhrer will be pleased."

After the men had departed, Emily and Clarice emerged from their hiding place and went to the file. It didn't take them long to find the report the strangers had been examining.

"Two hundred tons!" whistled Clarice, "That's a lot of oil!"

"Can you tell what type it was?"

"From the declared value, I'd imagine either diesel or cod liver oil."

"Let's hope it was the former," Emily said with a shudder. "Where was it delivered?"

"To a freighter called the Shima No Shōjo Maru."

"It was nice of those chappies to give us her name," said Emily. "Do you reckon we should find out where she went?"

Clarice grinned. "Dinki di!"

Abigail handled her mount with the solid competence one would expect from the daughter of a rancher. Behind her, Fleming had been having a bit more trouble -- for obvious reasons, service aboard one of His Majesty's Airships didn't afford much opportunity to practice equestrian skills -- but it had been several hours since he'd fallen off.

"Do you know where we are?" he asked as they reined in to study their surroundings.

"Not exactly," Abigail admitted, "but we must be well west of the camp."

"Are you quite sure of the direction?" Fleming asked dubiously.

"Of course, " said Abigail. "The stars are an infallible guide to navigation. At this time of year, the constellation of..."

"Right," Fleming said hastily, "Let's press on."

A few miles further, they came to a set of rails. They didn't need to dismount to recognize this as the same line they thought they'd left behind.

"We've come in circles," said Fleming.

"It would be more of a semicircle," Abigail corrected him, "or perhaps the chord of an ellipse. It could also be a curtate cycloid if we assume that..."

"We need a new plan of action," Fleming interrupted. "We can't keep wandering around the outback. Let's follow these rails north. That should lead us to the harbor where they landed the material they used to build that fence."

"Dinki di!" said Abigail.

Miss Perkins studied the document again. It was a handwritten transcript of an original but there was no reason to believe it was inaccurate. The content was as she expected: a report to the Admiral's office that the air station in Cairns was conducting an investigation of nationalist groups. It was marked confidential, restricted to the Admiral's immediate staff. Had her contact been any less competent, she'd never have discovered the author's name.

Lawrence Michaelson

The implication was clear. The senior captain had deliberately sabotaged his own investigation, and he'd kept this secret from his own people. Was this a deliberate move to betray them, some subtle stratagem against their foes, or both?

She held a match to the paper, watched it burn, then stirred the ashes -- this was not the sort of material one left lying around. Then she headed to Michaelson's office to deliver her own report. When she reached it, she paused. How should she handle this situation? Should she confront the senior captain with her discovery or play dumb and see if he brought the matter up himself? The latter course seemed safest... if she could pull it off. She composed herself and knocked on the door.

"Enter," came the reply.

Michaelson sat at his desk, surrounded by the usual piles of paperwork. Someone unfamiliar with the senior captain's machinations might have thought he looked like an ordinary bureaucrat. Miss Perkins knew better.

"My contacts were able to trace the order terminating our investigation," she told him. "It came directly from the Admiralty. They were unable to determine just who was responsible, but in view of the distance between here and London, a local connection seems unlikely."

The senior captain made a marginal note on the document he was reading and set it aside. "I would agree, were it not for Lady Warfield's presence in the Pacific," he said. "We must assume she is in contact with her husband back in England."

"You think the Baron is behind this?" asked Miss Perkins.

"Either that or he's acting as an agent for someone else. The man is something of a mercenary."

Miss Perkins did her best to pretend disinterest. "How could they have learned of our investigation?" she asked innocently.

Michaelson shrugged. "It would not have been too difficult for someone to discover," he observed. "Our communications may have been encrypted, but the ports of call of our various vessels are a matter of public record. An interested party could have examined this list to put two and two together. We will wish to learn who that party might be. I must consider how to proceed. You may go."

Miss Perkins nodded and left, keeping her expression neutral. She'd hardly expected an admission of responsibility from the senior captain, but his latest strategy was too cynical for her to accept. It was time to take matters into her own hands.

Michaelson listened to Miss Perkins's footsteps recede down the hall and sighed. He'd known what he was doing - in a game like this, with stakes this high, and opponents this dire, you moved your pieces any way you could. You also tried not to count the cost, but that was much harder.

Next week: Fun With Fonetic Alfabets...

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