Episode 321: Called to Task
Iverson gazed down from the Flying Cloud's control car at the view
below. To the south, the Cairns Royal Air Station nestled in a curve of the
coastline, just north of the town. From this altitude, it might have been
an elaborate model for some form of training exercise. A signal lamp
flashed from atop one of the masts. He didn't need Jenkins's help to read
"They've instructed us to moor at Mast Number Three, sir," he told Captain
Everett glanced at the field -- a deceptively casual gesture that seemed to
take in all there was to see of the weather, conditions, and wind -- and
nodded. "Very well," he told the lieutenant. "I will trust you to handle
Iverson gulped. He'd flown approaches before, but never at a major station,
where all eyes would be watching. "Yes, sir," he replied. Then he took a
deep breath and turned to the bridge crew. "Lieutenant Murdock, all three
engines to idle. Miss Sarah, prepare to weigh off."
Everett smiled to himself. Dumping unexpected assignments in junior
officers' laps was one of the privileges of command. He watched for a
moment, to make sure Iverson was up to the task, then returned his attention
to the air station. It looked deceptively innocent. A spider's web must
have looked much the same to an approaching fly.
Some time later, the Flying Cloud was riding from a low mast while
handlers attached the stern dolly. This particular choice of moorings meant
the ship could easily be rolled to the sheds should Michaelson order an
extended stay. Everett could not regard this as a good sign, but didn't
allow his misgivings to show.
"Good work, Mister Iverson," he announced. "I suppose it's time to visit
"Sir?" asked Iverson.
"Excuse me. Order the crew to mooring watches and prepare for resupply
while Jenkins and I see what Captain Michaelson has in mind for us now."
The senior captain's mood was hard to decipher at the best of times. Now he
seemed determined to set new standards for inscrutability. He leafed
through their report, set it aside, and regarded them with an expression
that would not have looked out of place on the Sphinx.
"You failed to capture the pirates," he observed. "Would you care to offer
"It was not part of our brief," Everett replied cautiously. There seemed no
point in detailed explanations until they knew what his adversary had in
mind. "The Admiral's Office ordered us to put an end to piracy in the Java
Sea. We did so."
"By chasing the pirates to New Guinea," Michaelson said dryly.
"We're assuming the fellows who attacked Thursday Island were same people
who were responsible for the attacks in the Java Sea," said Everett.
"You know very well they were," Michaelson snapped.
Everett decided to risk a counter-attack. "If our suspicions are correct,
these would be the American gangsters with whom we collaborated against the
British Union. Their apprehension and subsequent interrogation might have
placed us in a difficult position." He stressed the pronoun to make it
clear it referred to the senior captain as well.
Michaelson gave a hint of a nod, as if they'd passed some test. "Matters
are not as bad as they could have been," he observed. "The Torres Strait is
not our responsibility. The Admiral's office has taken charge of the Port
Jenkins raised an eyebrow. "When did this happen, sir?"
"It would have been a month ago, just prior to the appearance of this
She Who Must Be Obeyed."
"Do you believe there's a connection?" asked the signalman.
"This seems likely," said Michaelson. "We've assumed this woman with the
imperative title is still the Lady Warfield. If her husband is in England,
he might well be in a position to influence the Admiralty.".
"I thought we'd put a spoke in his wheel this spring, when we exposed his
role in discrediting Sir Reginald in the Burmah Oil affair."
Michaelson shook his head. "The man may not be a particularly
sophisticated player, but he does know how to cut his losses. He might well
have taken a fall in return for favors from others who might have been
embarrassed by the matter. He was hardly the only one to profit from the
Persian monopoly. I understand Mister Churchill was acting as a consultant
for Burmah Oil when it was granted.
"Our recent Secretary of State for Air?" asked Jenkins.
"I doubt he has any personal interest in this matter," said Michaelson.
"It seems too trivial for a man who plays at his level. But he's a
consummate politician, and he might have made some deal with someone
"Where does that leave us?" asked Everett.
"We still need to trace the connection in the Admiral's office," said
Michaelson. "I sent Miss Perkins to make inquiries in Sydney, but it
remains to be determined if these will be successful. In the interim, you
will proceed to Port Moresby to track down the pirates."
"From what you've told us, we can assume that someone in the Admiral's
office will object," protested Everett.
Michaelson's smile was not reassuring. "Quite," he replied, "and we will
see just who that `someone' might be."
Everett nodded to himself. This was hardly the first time the senior
captain had offered them as sacrificial pawns to gain some advantage. "I
understand," he replied. "We will see what we can stir up. Is Miss
Perkins still in Sydney?"
Was that a flicker of emotion that passed across Michaelson's face?
"She's taking a vacation," he replied.. "I notice that
Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan is not with you today. I trust he's well."
Everett considered his reply carefully. There was fine distinction
between a misleading statement and an outright lie. "He's at the ship
dealing with administrative matters."
The ship in question was the R-67, City of Brisbane, and the
`administrative matters' involved transportation.
"This all seems somewhat irregular," said Captain Sanders, the packet's
"Not particularly," said MacKiernan. "It's a conventional charter, by the
Royal Navy Airship Service, under RNR 68-132, pursuant to the conditions of
RNR 68-257 and RNR 68-305B. You would remain in command, while I specified
The airship captain seemed dubious about some aspects of this plan. "What
if this destination involved some element of risk?"
MacKiernan smiled. "This is hardly likely. But if some condition arose that
might not be covered by your underwriters, you would be free to terminate the
charter in accordance with RNR 68-305B."
"Very well," said Captain Sanders. "We are at loose ends for the moment.
Where do you wish to go?"
Next week: Meanwhile, Back in the Outback...
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