The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 338: More Fun In The Kimberly Region

Radio tower

Clarice, Emily, and Miss Perkins sat by the window, discussing the day's revelations. The view outside might have been every bit as monotonous it had been that morning, but their conversation was considerably more animated. The Finnish archaeological dig had provided plenty of food for thought.

"Do you think Oskari was telling the truth about the place?" asked Emily.

"He would hardly have gone to all that trouble just to mislead us," said Clarice. "Also..." she glanced at Miss Perkins, "...he seemed rather sweet on someone."

The secretary pretended not to notice. "His theories about its origin seem rather difficult to credit," she observed. "There may be plenty of mysterious stone ruins scattered about the Pacific, but this hypothesis that they're all relics of some vanished civilization is preposterous. You might as well suggest they were left by some alien race that filtered down from the stars before the dawn of time, sleeps beneath the waves, and will rise again when the stars are right to sweep the world clean of humanity. Also, no such ruins have ever been found in Australia."

"What about that cave Everett found near the coast that the White Russians were using as a laboratory?" asked Emily. "Didn't it have carvings on its walls too?"

"Perhaps," Miss Perkins admitted, "but there's no reason to believe they're in any way connected with the ones here."

"I wonder about the man's motives," said Clarice. "Is this a legitimate scientific investigation or is he just digging up artifacts for sale to private collectors?"

"That might explain why the Lady Warfield is here," Emily suggested. "She seems to have a nose for money."

"Perhaps," mused Clarice, "but what are those Japanese chappies up to? It's difficult to imagine how any artifact could be valuable enough for them to bring the cruiser here."

"I suspect they're after something else," said Miss Perkins. "According to Captain Everett's report, the Russians were using centrifuges to refine some special mineral they used to make the Ujelang Device. There are centrifuges here too."

The room fell silent as Clarice and Emily digested the implications.

"You think the Japanese are trying to build their own copy of the weapon?" asked Clarice.

"It seems a reasonable assumption," said Miss Perkins. "We've hypothesized they were at one time allied with the German nationalists, and we know that the Fat Man stole the secret of the Device from the Russians. Oskari might just be some an innocent dupe they're using to provide cover for their mining operation."

"Then what is Lady Warfield involvement?" asked Emily.

"I imagine she's gathering intelligence for the Japanese," said Miss Perkins. "The Germans maintain agents in Sydney; it stands to reason the British Union would too. My contact mentioned someone called the Rabbit, and we've seen plenty of references to this rabbit-proof fence. It's difficult to believe this is only a coincidence."

"Do you think she's working with the Finns, the Japanese, or both?" asked Clarice. "And what was all the bizzo about that door?"

"I imagine the answer to the first question is 'neither'," Miss Perkins said sourly. "Loyalty may not be the baroness's most distinguishing characteristic. As to the second, I don't have the slightest idea, but there seem to be quite a few people on the trail of this mysterious key. We'll want to get word of this back to Everett and Michaelson to see what they can make of it."

"Can we sneak into their wireless shack and send them a message?" asked Clarice.

Miss Perkins shook her head. "It will be too well guarded. Our best bet may be to steal a train and make our way to the coast."

Clarice and Emily glanced at each other. Neither of them counted steam engineering among their skills. "Do you know how to operate a locomotive?" asked Emily.

Miss Perkins gave a dismissive shrug. "We'll deal with that when the time comes."

"What's your plan?" asked Sanders.

MacKiernan gestured toward the estuary that lay between them and the railhead. "First we have to get across the river without being seen."

"Could we wait for nightfall, then swim across?" asked the airman.

"You'd get taken by crocs," Abigail said cheerfully. "They drag you down and hold you under until you drown -- that's if they don't rip your leg off and wait for you to bleed to death."

Sanders frowned. "Neither of these alternatives sounds particularly attractive."

"Quite," said MacKiernan. "Fleming, I gather that you and your companion came from inland. How far upstream would we have to travel to find a safe place to cross?"

"Five or six miles," said Fleming, "but that could take several hours. Some of this brush is packed tighter than a pub on ladies' night."

MacKiernan glanced at the surrounding jungle, trying to imagine it filled with unruly drinkers, but the effort was beyond his powers. "Then we'd best get started," he said. "We'll want to finish while we still have some daylight."

The journey took somewhat longer than the Irishman hoped, and night had fallen by the time they reached the railhead. The moon was only a day past new, so the only light came from the stars and a few incandescent bulbs set above some of the doorways. No one seemed to moving on the depot's empty streets.

MacKiernan studied the scene and nodded. "These fellows don't appear to have posted any sentries," he whispered to his companions. "We'll take advantage of this oversight to avail ourselves of their wireless equipment."

"How will we find it in the dark?" asked Sanders.

MacKiernan indicated the antennae tower that rose to their right. "We'll make for their radio mast and trace the cables back to the station."

A short time later, they were easing open the door to a small wooden hut. Inside, vacuum tubes glowed from a row of cabinets. MacKiernan recognized a compact Marconi set similar to the installation on the Flying Cloud. He took a seat next to the key, adjusted the equipment, and tapped out a short message.

"That should serve," he told his companions. "I had to send it in clear, but I doubt anyone but the Captain could be listening. Once I've covered our tracks, we'll leave."

As MacKiernan was returning the transmitter to its original settings, the door swung open and a figure in dark clothing stepped into the room, froze, and stared at them like someone caught in an indiscretion. "It's not what it looks like!" he stammered. "I'm only here to clean the..."

Before the newcomer could say more, Fleming clubbed him over the head with an operating manual. MacKiernan caught the man as he collapsed, eased him to the floor, and gestured for silence. "See if he had any companions," he whispered to Fleming.

The Aussie peered out into the night. "Not that I can see," he whispered back. "What should we do with the fellow?"

MacKiernan thought quickly. The man's discovery of their presence had changed everything. "We can hardly take him with us," he replied, "and once he's missed, these people will guess someone used their station to send a message. We'll have to make sure they can't warn whoever's at the other end of the rail line. We'll disable this equipment, head south to cut their telegraph lines, then wait for the Captain to show up."

Next week: A Rabbit Trap...

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